While most praised the appointment of Raf Simons as Chief Creative Officer at Calvin Klein, some stated that brand’s “All American” aesthetic was at stake. After all, the Belgian designer had never held a top position at an American house before, with previous tenures at Jil Sander, Dior and his eponymous label. In addition, he was educated at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts which had a name for producing creative, yet rebellious designers like Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela and Walter van Beirendonck. The fashion world was excited, yet a bit uneasy about the move that proved to be against the grain in more ways than one: American designers and brands, like Rodarte and Proenza Schouler, had the tendency to move their shows to Europe and here was a European designer making his big move to New York.
When Simons presented his first collection, “By Appointment” for the brand earlier this year, most gasped of excitement, some sighed of relief, but all were amazed. The collection could best be described as a departure from what we had all come to expect from Calvin Klein and showed Raf Simons in his element: paying homage to the brand’s identity and taking that same identity to new heights. The show was held on 39th Street and invitations featured the text: “Established 1968”. In the crowd were the “old” garde, like the original face of the brand, Brooke Shields, and the new garde, like A$AP Rocky and Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown.
On 68th Street, visitors sat in what was described as “a Sterling Ruby artwork”; Ruby, of course, Raf Simons’ longtime collaborator. In this “artwork” an air of gender neutrality was presented, with both male and female models dressed in similar outfits; something that rings true to Calvin Klein’s “One” credo. It is also very much of the times, with gender neutrality becoming more and more popular as prominent artists like Young Thug, Boychild et al. preach the idea.
Simons and his right hand man Pieter Mulier could not have presented a collection more befitting American culture and in line with Calvin Klein’s codes (read: minimalism and sensuality). Pieces presented on the runway were reminiscent of band uniforms, sheriff’s outfits and cowboy boots. Overcoats were covered with transparent plastic which, only few know, is an homage to couch covers that were popular back in the day. Bizarre as this particular bit of homage may sound, they are perhaps some of the best pieces in the entire collection.
Something else Simons and Mulier payed homage to was (or maybe still is) the ultimate form of American workwear: jeans. Although this had not been a main source of income for many fashion houses in recent years, Raf Simons might just turn this around for Calvin Klein, with the material prominently featured in the collection. And of course, the ultimate homage to the brand’s history: Brooke Shields’ silhouette is stamped on the leather labels of the garments.
So much for the homage part. Let’s look at the taking things to new heights part: for their last two campaigns, Raf Simons has enlisted longtime collaborators Sterling Ruby and Willy Vanderperre. In addition, he has worked with The xx and featured the brand’s latest collection in their “I Dare You” video. He has also brought with him new faces, with Millie Bobby Brown moving from the front row to the brand’s AW17 campaign.
Although it remains to be seen what Simons’ true influence on Calvin Klein will be in the long run, we can be sure in stating that he has made a good start in elevating American fashion and reigniting the flame that was once there.
Make sure to check out the FW17 Calvin Klein collection by Raf Simons, now in store at Azzurro Due.