Major American brands based in New York City are turning over a new leaf in 2016. Tommy Hilfiger was one of the first to adopt a direct-to-consumer model and change its marketing strategy to focus on millennial interest by courting the star power of Gigi Hadid for a special brand collaboration. Donna Karan promises to be reinvigorated by new ownership under G-III, while DKNY submitted to the control of Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow of the cult label Public School. Now, Calvin Klein is eagerly joining the ranks of brands who are pivoting in unexpected directions by adopting new business strategies. Today, rumors that Raf Simons was headed to Calvin Klein were confirmed by the brand, and with Simons’ induction as the new Chief Creative Officer comes his business partner and right-hand man, Pieter Mulier, in the position of Creative Director reporting directly to Simons.
It takes a bit of unpacking to understand why a vocal critic of the fashion industry who resigned from his post at Dior due to increased pressure from the business side of the brand to perform for the bottom line might stake his claim at a sprawling, multi-channel brand owned by a multi-national conglomerate. On paper, at least, Calvin Klein resembles the kind of brand that Simons would not desire a role at, but one major aspect of his job as Chief Creative Officer at Calvin Klein separates itself from his time at Dior: control. Rumors swirled around Simons’ unhappy time at Dior, where he raced to create multiple collections a year, while at the same time desiring input into all of Dior’s product categories and campaigns (a role he was denied). At Calvin Klein, Simons will oversee all menswear and womenswear collections, as well as all channels, product categories, and in-house brands like CK Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein. In essence, he will assume a position that has far-reaching power and consequences for the brand both aesthetically and financially. He will be the Hedi Slimane to Calvin Klein’s Saint Laurent.
A few curiosities arise from this breaking news announcement, namely, Calvin Klein’s strategic repositioning and how it will likely lead to renewed interest in the brand’s ready-to-wear category, which so far has brought in only a small slice ($10 million annually) of the brand’s $2.9 billion in annual revenue. With Simons and Mulier overseeing ready-to-wear production, there is a change this category could rise from “a marketing expense” as former president and chief executive of Calvin Klein, Tom Murry, told Business of Fashion, to its main attraction.
While the industry can’t help but place laser-focus on Simons and his well-known stance on the failings of the fashion industry, it is Calvin Klein that stands to rake in the most reward. Simons is poised to invigorate the Calvin Klein brand, and be handsomely rewarded for doing so (to the tune of an $18 million annual salary). However, if Simons is successful at repositioning Calvin Klein’s many brands, the brand’s parent company, PVH, and its investors stand to make upwards of $10 billion in global retail sales – or at least that is the purported goal.
Simons’ and Muliers’ debut collection for Calvin Klein will occur for the Fall/Winter 2017 season, and will – without a doubt – be the hottest seat in town at New York Fashion Week.