Raf Simons’ vision of Americana at Calvin Klein, with his slightly surreal take on prom queens and marching bands and your grandmother’s quilts, may not be connecting with the very Americans he’s celebrating.
Calvin Klein’s parent company PVH is, according to Emanuel Chirico, its CEO, “disappointed by the lack of return on our investments in our Calvin Klein 205W39NYC halo business.” Not only that, but Chirico also expressed that the more affordable CK Jeans line is “too elevated” and not selling well.
Simons’ work for Calvin Klein has been a hit with critics, with The New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman describing his Fall 2018 collection, where he brought hazmat suits and 50,000 gallons of popcorn to the runway, as “viscerally recognizable, the way really good fashion—which is not the same thing as wearable clothes—is supposed to be.” She also noted that it’s risky for a designer to pontificate on national identity, and indeed, it’s interesting to see the ways in which a reimagining of Americana speaks—and doesn’t speak—to the very people it’s riffing from.
Calvin Klein’s third-quarter earnings were $121 million, down from $142 million last year, “mainly due to an increase in creative and marketing expenditures,” Reuters reported. According to WWD, to make up for that drop, the company has outlined a plan to cut “investments in [Simons’] runway collection, as marketing budgets shift to influencers and more approachable messaging.”
“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 the Calvin Klein business,” Chirico said on an earnings call. In other words, Simons is about to have to figure out how to better sell to your mall-shopping family members. And while Calvin Klein, still PVH’s number-two earner, isn’t in any real trouble, it’s a bit sad to hear that a fashion industry star like Simons is going to have to tone things down.
It’s also interesting to imagine what that new version of CK will look like. Calvin Klein is, after all, America’s brand—it may not have the heritage of Levi’s, but it has represented American youth ever since Marky Mark posed in white boxers. If Simons, who has somewhat unprecedented creative control over the brand, has, as Friedman noted, expressed a vision of where our national identity is at right now, with its burned barns and quilts, what will that look like for the consumer of Calvin Klein at every level?
Apparently, the patchwork denim and western shirts of the current CK Jean collection aren’t speaking to mainstream Americans as much as perhaps expected. It’s hard to imagine that the Kardashians wrapped isn’t appealing to mall shoppers, but maybe that’s also, in some way, evidence of a larger disconnect in our national identity.
Right now, when I try to envision mainstream American fashion—the kinds of items I would find at a mall—I think Lululemon and Forever 21. Athleisure is, after all, still the best selling category right now. This might explain why, when the ‘90s Calvin Klein logo came back in style, Urban Outfitters was selling the sports bras and briefs, not so much the jeans. And perhaps the flag motifs on some of the CK Jeans items feel a little too on the nose during a time of extreme political uncertainty. Maybe, for a brand steeped in modern-day Americana, Simons may have to pull back a bit, at least in some corners of the brand, on the exploration of patriotic motifs.
“When we talk about the state of American fashion today it’s really ‘world’ fashion we’re talking about,” Ralph Lauren said in WWD’s article on the state of American Fashion. “The influences and influencers driven and shared through the Internet have democratized and globalized fashion.” That globalization may be key to understanding why some of Simons’ designs have failed to hit.
Or maybe, as we too often forget to do in 2018, we just have to give Simons some time for his vision to extrapolate further in the more mainstream corners of the brand. Things take time to trickle down, but when they do, they can really hit. And if there’s anyone who can—and will—see those larger possibilities, it’s Simons. “I’m not romantic about the past. Once it’s done it’s done,” he said in a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair. “I’m romantic about the future.”