For the first time since Calvin himself, Calvin Klein is giving complete creative control to one person

The new head honcho at Calvin Klein.
The new head honcho at Calvin Klein.
Image: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
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Raf Simons, the former creative director of Christian Dior and Jil Sander, and one of the most influential menswear designers of the past two decades, has officially been confirmed as Calvin Klein’s new chief creative officer.

He will immediately take creative control of all Calvin Klein’s disparate brands, uniting them under one vision for the first time since Klein himself led his company. He left it in 2003, after selling it to shirtmaker Phillips-Van Heusen the year before.

The sprawling constellation of Calvin Klein brands could be in for a major reinvention, and there are many of them, including Calvin Klein Collection, Calvin Klein Platinum, Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Underwear, and Calvin Klein Home. The brand image has focused on sex and provocation since at least 1980, when 15-year-old Brooke Shields proclaimed in an ad, “What gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” More than thirty years later, spanning campaigns including an emaciated Kate Moss and one likened to child pornography, Calvin Klein is still leaning on that sex-centric image.

Simons, however, is more cerebral in his approach, frequently mining youth subcultures and modern art for his namesake line and the successful work he’s done as the creative lead at other brands. Those disparate approaches will come together as Simons takes over “all aspects of Design, Global Marketing and Communications, and Visual Creative Services,” according to the official announcement, made on Calvin Klein’s social-media channels today (Aug. 2).

The clothes could see big changes, too. Underwear and fragrances have always been crucial to Calvin Klein’s sales, but Klein also created runway collections focused on stylish simplicity in items such as slip dresses. The company still has high-end men’s and women’s lines, produced under the name Calvin Klein Collection, but they haven’t played a significant role in the company’s financials. In fact, the company admitted publicly that it lists those collections as a “marketing expense” on its balance sheet, presumably to help sales of perfume and the rather undistinguished jeans line.

The company will likely put more emphasis on its runway collections, however, as Simons, who created critically and commercially successful collections for Jil Sander and Christian Dior, takes control. The company has already announced that his first collection for the brand will be fall 2017.

“The arrival of Raf Simons as Chief Creative Officer signifies a momentous new chapter for Calvin Klein,” Steve Shiffman, CEO of Calvin Klein, said in a statement. “Not since Mr. Klein himself was at the company has it been led by one creative visionary, and I am confident that this decision will drive the Calvin Klein brand and have a significant impact on its future.”

Simons won’t be going it completely alone. The company also announced the hire of Pieter Mulier, who was Simons’ right-hand man and studio director during his tenure at Dior. Mulier will serve as creative director and be responsible for managing the design teams and executing Simons’ vision.

Simons’ hire is the latest and most significant step of Calvin Klein’s ongoing reinvention. In 2013, the company bought back its Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein Underwear businesses, and in April this year it fired the two respected designers who had been overseeing Calvin Klein Collection.

Klein himself evidently approves of the change. “They are doing something that I had hoped they would have done, which is replace me,” he said in a radio interview in June (paywall), before Simons’ appointment was made public. “Find someone who can with a singular vision oversee everything that is creative.”