After months of rumors and speculation, Raf Simons has finally been confirmed as the Chief Creative Officer of American fashion icon Calvin Klein. Pretty much everyone in the industry is hyped on Raf’s move, and the Belgian’s appointment is going to be a breath of fresh air for CK, and for the New York fashion scene as a whole.
During his three-year tenure at Dior, Simons was clearly frustrated with the fashion industry’s relentless speed and hunger for new products, collections and trends. He had to design six collections per year: Resort (aka Cruise, depending on who you ask), Spring, Pre-Fall, Spring Couture, Fall and Fall Couture (in that order). Some of those collections were designed in as little as three weeks.
If Simons’ job at Dior sounds like a lot of work, just wait till you see what he’s got himself into now. Calvin Klein Inc. is an absolutely vast company, made up of 10 sub-brands, which are sold at 2,700 locations worldwide. Last year, the brand’s sales hit $8.2 billion.
Many brands use diffusion lines to attract different customers (Versus Versace or RRL, for example), but CK has a next-level network of labels hitting pretty much every price point and product category you can think of. Some Calvin Klein lines are available in certain regions, and to make things even more confusing, it’s not always clear which brand you’re actually buying.
That doesn’t seem to matter much to customers, though. “To them it’s all Calvin Klein and if they come into a store and they like the product, they buy it.” Calvin Klein’s former CEO Tom Murry insisted to Business of Fashion. “They don’t think ‘Oh wow this is confusing to me, because which Calvin Klein is this?’ It’s Calvin Klein and they purchase it.” The system might seem confusing, but it clearly works — it’s hard to argue with a number like $8.2 billion.
At Dior, Raf’s fellow Belgian, Kris Van Assche, ran the house’s menswear, and fragrances were handled by licensing partners. Now, though, Simons will be overseeing all of Calvin Klein’s lines — all 10 of them. Each of those brands produces seasonal collections and campaigns, often for both men and women.
Simons is the first designer to have full creative control over the house since Calvin led it himself (Klein sold his brand to PVH Corp in 2002, for around $400m). As Cathy Horyn, who knows Raf personally, points out, Simons is getting what he’d never get at Dior — “the opportunity to reshape the identity of an iconic brand, from its designs to its advertising to its choice of celebrity models.” Dior might be one of the most prestigious houses in the world, but it gives designers very little creative freedom — which is probably one of the reasons Raf Simons left in the first place.
In anticipation of Simons taking his modern, high-brow aesthetic over to New York, here’s a rundown of the brands that make Calvin Klein the $8.2 billion behemoth it is today.
Calvin Klein Collection
In their words: “Our most prestigious and luxurious brand, setting the tone of elegance and modern sophistication.”
What it actually is: Calvin Klein Collection is a modern, minimalist line that’s angled at exclusive, high-end retailers — think Acne Studios, Jil Sander and Alexander Wang and you won’t be far off. Just like those aforementioned designers, it’s pricey: there’s silk-blend denim jackets for $900, and neoprene hoodies for $450.
However, in terms of profit, Calvin Klein Collection is pretty insignificant — it’s mainly there to generate buzz for the rest of the CK family. “It’s not a business that contributes to the bottom line and it probably never will be,” CK’s former CEO Tom Murry explained to BoF. “For us, it’s a marketing expense…It’s a very small business, but a very important business.”
Calvin Klein Platinum
In their words: “Modern. Clean. Sexy.”
What it actually is: This line sits somewhere in between Calvin Klein Collection and the brand’s entry-level lines, but it isn’t actually clearly distinguished to consumers. It’s listed on CK’s official website, but there aren’t any products clearly branded as Calvin Klein Platinum. Given that it’s positioned above the basic ranges but below CK Collection, my guess is that CK Platinum is where most of the house’s suiting and formalwear goes.
Calvin Klein Jeans
In their words: “The original designer jeans. Provocative, sexy, youthful.”
What it actually is: The younger (in spirit), more streetwise brother of CK Collection and Platinum, Calvin Klein Jeans has evolved from denim into a full-fledged, mid-market line of casualwear. It’s built around a substantial denim offering (obviously), and lots of pieces sport CK’s iconic ’90s branding. Price-wise, it’s pretty accessible: a sweater or pair of jeans will set you back around $100.
CK Jeans’ nostalgic graphics and denim pieces are timeless classics, but the rest of the line’s aesthetic feels pretty outdated and department store-y. It’s definitely an area that could do with Raf’s midas touch.
Calvin Klein Underwear
In their words: “The first designer underwear. Modern, body-conscious, sensuous.”
What it actually is: Calvin Klein is synonymous with underwear; those racy ad campaigns in the ’90s were instrumental in making CK the household name it is today. The original ads featured Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg, but recent campaigns have carried on that blockbuster tradition with megastars like Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Lara Stone.
Underwear is a real money-maker, and it’s unlikely Raf will be doing much, if any, actual designing here. We’re expecting he’ll be overseeing the line’s ad campaigns though, which, let’s be real, are more important than the product anyway. Murry admitted in his BoF interview that “very powerful marketing” was the driving force behind the brand’s underwear, adding that, “it’s still great business and it’s still growing between five and 10 percent every year off a big, big base.”
Calvin Klein Watches + Jewelry
In their words: “Modern. Minimal. Precise. A full collection of timepieces and jewelry representing all facets of Calvin Klein.”
What it actually is: Calvin Klein Watches + Jewelry is, you guessed it, a line of watches and jewelry. The brand’s timepieces hover around the $200 mark, and in terms of jewelry, there’s cufflinks, bracelets and dog tag-style necklaces.
Nothing groundbreaking here; it’s the sort of thing you’d find in airport duty-free or a less-than-glamorous department store. Another part of the CK family that would benefit greatly from a bit of Raf Simon’s TLC.
Calvin Klein Fragrance
In their words: “Intriguing, mysterious, evocative. A complete wardrobe of signature scents and cosmetics.”
What it actually is: Much like the brand’s underwear, the ads for CK’s fragrances were huge in the ’90s. And, just like underwear, there’s tons of money to be made with fragrances — Coty Inc., CK’s fragrance licensee, generated $1.4 billion in sales for the brand in 2014 alone. The “heroin chic” look from CK’s Obsession ads shot by Bruce Weber was hugely controversial at the time, but that sort of mass-market controversy has made Calvin Klein a modern-day icon of fashion and pop culture — it’s an integral part of the brand’s DNA.
Again, we imagine Raf Simons will mainly be reworking the advertising and marketing here, rather than actually creating new scents.
CK ONE Color Cosmetics
In their words: “Look real. Define yourself. Add intensity.”
What it actually is: Judging from the brand’s website, CK’s cosmetics line is available in the European and Asian markets, but not in the USA. I don’t think Raf is gonna be spending too much time designing lipsticks, anyway.
Calvin Klein Home
In their words: “Relaxed elegance for the home. A complete lifestyle approach to living.”
What it actually is: Did you know Calvin Klein did furniture and bedding? Nope, me neither. This line could be promising though. Raf Simons, being the culture vulture that he is, is big into furniture, interiors and homeware — just check out his outrageously dope Antwerp home. He’s worked on homeware before, too — he’s got an ongoing collaboration with Danish textiles manufacturer Kvadrat. Fingers crossed for some dope-yet-affordable interior goods from Simons.
Calvin Klein Main Label / White Label
In their words: “Timeless, modern, classic. A complete lifestyle brand available throughout North America.”
What it actually is: This is where things start to get really confusing. Referred to as both “Main Label” and “White Label” in the brand’s communications, this is CK’s entry-level offering. Like CK Platinum, this line isn’t clearly distinguished to consumers — it’s just referred to on the brand’s website and Wikipedia.
Calvin Klein Performance
In their words: “Contemporary, functional athletic wear for an active, multi-dimensional lifestyle.”
What it actually is: Just to make things even less clear, CK’s sporty line is only listed on its American website. There’s already a lot of sportswear labels out there, and CK isn’t really the first name that comes to mind for high-performance activewear. Maybe Simons could reinvigorate the brand’s antiquated sneaker line, though?
We’ve not mentioned CK’s many discontinued ventures, either. The brand underwent a large restructuring program in 2013, and its PVH owners bought back the rights to any brands that it had previously sold (although it still works with many licensees). Abandoned Calvin Klein projects include CK One (originally the fragrance, but also a full lifestyle brand), Calvin Klein Golf, Calvin Klein Sport (an activewear line produced just for Macy’s) and ck Calvin Klein (another mid-market line, which, according to Wikipedia, is actually still operating in Japan).
The multi-tiered nature of the Calvin Klein machine is how it drives such huge sales; it’s operating at pretty much every price bracket imaginable, from high to low, all across the globe. No matter how old you are or how much money you have, you can buy a bit of CK’s legendary, sexed-up modernity.
It might be a confusing system, but with one of the world’s greatest living fashion designers now behind the wheel, who cares?
- Cover Image: Calvin Klein