Late last week, rumors have become reality—Raf Simons is leaving Calvin Klein. The separation comes less than two years after his debut collection over at the American company, and eight months before his contract is reportedly ending. As per the official statement, the two are parting ways because of the change of direction for Calvin Klein and that vision being different from what Simons has in mind. Disappointing as it may be, the industry is not at all surprised with the conclusion of Simons’ career at CK.
There have been signs of an impending breakup. As chief creative officer, Simons’ initially had significant control over the label, but some of his responsibilities have been delegated to other creative execs earlier this year without the need for his approval. In particular, Marie Gulin-Merle has been assigned the chief marketing officer, but she reports to chief executive Steve Shiffman instead of Simons. The Belgian designer’s ideas for advertising never materialized, with Calvin Klein redirecting energy towards influencers and social media, and new stores remained as plans. The clincher, however, was Emanuel Chirico’ statement last month. The chairman of PVH, parent company of Calvin Klein, did little to hide his disappointment, if there ever was any effort. The brand’s earnings have gone down in the past year, and he was unhappy about its soft performance. He did not name Simons in the statement, but he singled out Calvin Klein’s recent collection and called it a fashion miss, saying that the products were too elevated for the brand’s consumers.
The trajectory of Simons’ stint at Calvin Klein may be expected, but that does not discount the initial excitement the industry felt over his appointment two years ago. After all, he had quite a resume—before heading to New York, Simons led Dior for three years and Jil Sanders for seven years, where his work received universal acclaim. Calvin Klein thought then that he was the perfect person to reinvent the brand, and bring its sales two billion dollars up. The brand was not struggling in revenue as it has been consistent in sales in the past years, but it has not been part of the conversation since the early noughties. Bringing in Simons ought to change that.
It did. When Simons debuted his collection for Calvin Klein during the New York Fashion Week in 2017, it was among the most anticipated collections. The designer’s reinterpretation of the Americana mainstays were well-received, and he further elevated it with the rebranded Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, formerly known as the Calvin Klein Collection. With his catwalk collections, he made references to arthouse, being the art and culture aficionado that he is, while revisiting brand staples. His efforts have been recognized by the CFDA, which awarded him with the Designer of the Year twice. Unfortunately for Simons, the praise did not translate to sales.
Raf Simons and Calvin Klein were an odd couple from the beginning. Nothing in Simons’ resume indicated experience with mass-market labels, and PVH does not have a brand with the bent of Simons’ previous employers. The falling out may have also been caused by the lack of foresight that such a change would bring, and cost, a company. While the holdings company expressed support for Simons initially, it may have not anticipated that results in terms of revenue may not be realized as fast as they thought it would. For Simons’ part, he has prioritized concepts rather than revenue, which as we know now, are misaligned with Calvin Klein’s goals.
The separation may be better for both parties in the long run, although we still do not know how the two will go about in the future. For now, what we’re sure of is that Simons’ runway show for the upcoming New York Fashion Week has been cancelled, and that the New York crowd will sorely miss it.
Image credits: Getty Images, Jamie McCarthy, Mitchell Sams, Slaven Vlasic, Willy Vanderperre