Just two years after being appointed Calvin Klein’s first chief creative officer, Raf Simons is departing Calvin Klein. The move comes eight months before his three-year contract ended with the American company. As a result of the split, Calvin Klein will not present its runway collection during New York Fashion Week in February.
“Calvin Klein and Raf Simons announced today that Raf Simons is leaving his position as chief creative officer. Both parties have amicably decided to part ways after Calvin Klein decided on a new brand direction which differs from Simons’s creative vision,” the company said in a statement.
Representatives of both Calvin Klein and Raf Simons declined to offer further insights into the decision behind the exit.
Ever since joining Calvin Klein in August 2016 — from Christian Dior where he spent three years as women’s creative director — Simons was tasked with a complete overhaul of the storied fashion house and unifying the company’s many sub-lines under one creative vision.
To achieve this, the Belgian designer received a multi-million-dollar salary and was put in charge of the creative direction for the company’s diverse portfolio of brands, including Calvin Klein’s high-end ready-to-wear line, Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, Calvin Klein Jeans, and ck Calvin Klein, as well as having control over each brand’s campaign imagery, store design, and home goods.
Simons’ long-standing, right-hand man, Pieter Mulier, who was made creative director when Simons took the reigns at Calvin Klein, took to Instagram to share a purely black image without a caption. Friends of the brand, including model Naomi Campbell, frequent collaborator and photographer, Willy Vanderperre, and sound director, Michel Gaubert, have responded with words of support.
Simons’ departure might be unexpected to fans, but it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. On one hand, the designer has been praised by critics — he's received a slew of prizes since his appointment — and consumers for his outsider's take on American pop culture (i.e. referencing 1980s American horror movies, working with the Andy Warhol Foundation on product, and featuring the Kardashian family and A$AP Mob in campaigns for Calvin Klein Jeans).
Yet for months, reports have circulated around Emanuel Chirico, chief executive of Calvin Klein’s owner PVH Corp, being unsatisfied with the results driven by Calvin Klein’s runway line, Calvin Klein 205W39NYC — which was renamed after the address of the company’s New York headquarters upon Simons’ arrival.
The line was conceived to create desire around the brand itself, and cause a trickle-down effect for Calvin Klein's more affordable offerings, such as its jeans and underwear divisions. As a result, Calvin Klein 205W39NYC was often deemed to be too expensive and too fashion-forward for mainstream consumers. Even though the line did generate more sales than it had prior to Simons' appointment, it did not scale accordingly (partly due to the high costs associated with the line's production and marketing).
“The Calvin Klein Brand continues to command strong brand health and desire in all markets; however, the business experienced softness. While many of the product categories performed well, we are disappointed by the lack of return on our investments in our Calvin Klein 205W39NYC halo business and believe that some of the Calvin Klein Jeans relaunched product was too elevated and did not sell through as well as we planned,” Chirico told investors last month, stating that the company has invested between $60 and $70 million in the runway line over the last three years.
“As we move into 2019, we believe the consumer will increasingly feel more connected to the brand as we offer a more commercial product and marketing experience to capture the long-term opportunity for our Calvin Klein business.” Continuing to shift its advertising budgets from print to digital and increase its influencer programme (as seen on its social channels) will certainly help the company reach the aforementioned objectives.
A successor for Simons has yet been named, but the noticeable gap he will leave on the New York Fashion Week schedule next February will be felt.