The first outfit of the first Calvin Klein collection that Raf Simons showed back in February last year. Photo: Yannis Vlamos/indigital.tv
It has been the talk of the fashion world for two weeks now. And it is finally confirmed. Raf Simons is leaving Calvin Klein, according to just-out reports by BOF and WWD. This is barely two years after his appointment in August in 2016, and reportedly eight months ahead of the end of his contract. We suppose if you were publicly noted by your boss for not bringing the results that he had hoped for, it is time to go.
Early this month, in an earnings report, CEO Emanuel Chirico of PVH Corp (the parent company of Calvin Klein that also owns Tommy Hilfiger) told the media how disappointed he was with the third-quarter earnings of the brand, especially the ROI in Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, the re-branded main line, which the company calls their “halo business”. In addition, Mr Chirico said that “some of Calvin Klein Jeans’ relaunched product was too elevated and did not sell too well.”
Not only were the styles elevated for Calvin Klein Jeans, the prices were elevated too. Is designer jeans still a category that has so much pull that Calvin Klein is still trying to maintain a lead? It isn’t clear if shoppers are willing to pay more than S$300 for what, to most of us, is a basic garment that we already own in numbers that are more than two. It does not require big data to know that people are now buying expensive hoodies rather than expensive jeans. With dismal sales, Mr Chirico was said to have described the new denim line as a “fashion miss”.
The signature shirt is also available for men. Photo: Mr Porter
But the problem it seems is the rather lukewarm response to Calvin Klein 205W39NYC at retail level. Sure, the fashion editors and fashion-correct influencers mostly love it, but from the first collection, we feel Mr Simons did not create anything as special as he did with his two earlier tenures: at Jil Sander and at Dior. We once heard a woman tell her boyfriend in DSMS that Calvin Klein 205W39NYC “doesn’t look expensive enough.”
The clothes shown on the runway may be eye-catching, but upfront, when they seen are on the racks, they are quite different. For all the minimalism they project, much of the lauded pieces feel heavy and thick to the touch, even in the summer season—more work wear than luxury threads. A common complain is the weight of the fabrics used in the frequently-featured western shirt (Melania Trump was an early adopter). It is in a cotton twill that is heavy enough for trousers.
Melania Trump was one of the earliest public figures to wear the Calvin Klein 205W39NYC western shirt. Photo: Getty Images
The heavy fabric use has even filtered down to the cheaper CK Calvin Klein and Calvin Klein Jeans lines. The cotton poplin versions, too, weren’t breezy-light enough. It is a puzzling product development move and, as noted by some merchandisers, ignorant of the needs of much of Asia that constantly bake under equatorial heat. To be fair, the design team has translated the western shirt into some rather uncommon clothes for the other collections, such as polos and even puffer jackets.
Perhaps, most unnecessary is the relentless beating of the Americana drum. It isn’t certain if Americans are marching to the beat, but we suspect it may have increasingly become a difficult sell. Mr Simons seemed to get his kicks on Route 66, assuming the rest of the world is still enamored with American culture. He paid tribute not only to cowboys, but firemen too, and much in between, including the unlikely cartoonish sea terror Jaws. It is hard to believe that Americans will pay top dollar to cop these items that are already available, from mall stores to gift shops. That, to us, seem like peddling the Mandarin collar or tassel-earring to the Chinese.
We wonder if for European designers, Hedi Slimane included, America is exotic, which may explain why Mr Simons played with Yankee “icons” the way he did. We can imagine the twinkle in his eyes when he arrived in New York in 2016 to take up the post at Calvin Klein. Only thing is, this was no longer the America that he remembered and fantasized about. It was a wall-seeking/building America. And Andy Warhol, prophetic and unique, was, by then, dead.