Calvin Klein Just Left the Runway—Is That the Future of Fashion?

Calvin Klein has gone a bit under-the-radar since Raf Simons left his post as chief creative officer in December. First, there were plans to relaunch the 205W39NYC collection with a new name and creative direction, but however that reinvention may look, it will take place without a luxury collection, the brand announced on Wednesday.


On top of closing its Milan office and laying off about 100 people in New York, the brand said that it will fold its luxury division. And it looks like Calvin Klein could be taking a page from Tommy Hilfiger, a brand that’s done remarkably well with its model that forgoes luxury in favor of buzzy influencer collaborations, like its recently launched #TommyNow collection with Zendaya.


As Business of Fashion reported, Calvin Klein had high hopes for a Gucci-style revival by hiring Raf Simons as their own Alessandro Michele. But, in the end, the disconnect between their high-fashion division, the 205W39NYC collection, and their mass-market offerings was too vast to bridge.


The brand that was once a tentpole for the New York Fashion Week schedule leaving behind the runway signals a sea change that’s been slowly coming over the fashion world. “Closing the brand’s collection business marks not only a complete reversal of that decision, but the rejection of a business model long held dear in the industry: the so-called ‘halo’ effect of a high-end line that acts as an attention-getter and newsmaker…” Vanessa Friedman wrote in The New York Times.


Simons burst onto the scene at Calvin Klein with a first runway collection that garnered rave reviews. It was a bizarro Americana fever dream inspired by everything from Wall Street suits to plastic couch covers. But people don’t exactly look to Calvin Klein for Americana fever dreams—more so the Kardashians wrapped in quilts in a barn. Or, perhaps Marky Mark in peak 1995 form, wearing—what else—but his Calvins.


As others have pointed out, the brand should perhaps take a few lessons from the success of #TommyNow runway events that create the perfect quick-bite, highly social media-friendly events—buzzy spectaculars with celebrities like Zendaya, Gigi Hadid, and Lewis Hamilton. In essence, Calvin Klein would probably benefit from bringing back hot, famous people in briefs or other similarly attention-grabbing ventures.


The label’s runway departure does highlight the growing irrelevancy of fashion week, an event that already feels bloated at a lengthy four weeks. (A common refrain: When isn’t it fashion week?) Aside from the many headline names leaving the schedule, lots of younger brands aren’t even seeking out a spot to begin with.


Poster Girl, a British brand attracting attention from people like Dua Lipa and Sita Abellan, doesn’t adhere to two collections per year—or even the idea of seasons. They offer instead four series that create pieces from one or two chosen fabrics. “Instead of a runway show or new campaign, women are photographed donning their designs to take out the trash, or shop at the grocery store,” Beatrice Hazelhurst writes for COOLS.


Maybe the aspirational lifestyle dream isn’t desired in the way it has traditionally been—as evidenced by Balenciaga’s Instagram strategy of having regular people photograph themselves in the brand’s product. That trickle-down lifestyle dream—American fashion’s favorite pyramid scheme, as Friedman called it—only works if there’s something relatable to aspire to. And Simons’ dark American fantasy appears to have been a bit too much to stomach for consumers.


For Calvin Klein to do away with its luxury collections completely is uncharted territory for such a large heritage label—for previously well-known, style-defining labels like Donna Karan or Bill Blass, it was a creative capital death sentence. Time will tell what the move means for Calvin Klein, but as #TommyNow demonstrates, perhaps there’s room for social media spectacles that merge traditional runway with pure entertainment. Kylie Jenner x Calvin Klein, anyone?


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