Can Raf Simons Rejuvenate Calvin Klein?

Since the departure of its founder early in the new millennium, Calvin Klein has struggled to articulate a clear esthetic vision. The daring Simons could change all that.

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After much rumor and speculation, Raf Simons has emerged as chief creative director of Calvin Klein Inc. Simons’s appointment, announced today by PVH Corp., the parent company of Calvin Klein, marks a turning point for the venerable brand, which has struggled to articulate a clear vision ever since Calvin Klein himself ceded creative control in 2003.

Arriving at Calvin Klein after a three-year stint at Christian Dior, Simons will oversee everything—underwear, denim, fragrance—as well as women’s and men’s collections, which were formerly under the direction, respectively, of Francisco Costa and Italo Zucchelli.

Simons, 48, who also designed for Jil Sander menswear as well as his own eponymous label, brings an edgy aesthetic to a firm best known for its racy advertising, even though its high-end collections were much more conservatively minimalist.

Will Simons return the company, founded in 1968 by Klein and Barry Schwartz, to its original vision of streamlined simplicity—an esthetic that helped convince America that designer jeans, designer underwear, and fragrances are essential to living well?

During the ’80s and ’90s, Calvin Klein set a standard for advertising that pushed the boundaries of taste. Featuring sexy models and such big-name photographers as Bruce Weber and Herb Ritts (making them fashion stars in their own right), it’s a template many brands continue to reference to this day. Alongside all of this branding, the higher-end flagship collections featured on the runway seductively preached the twin ideas of aspiration and desire: You wanted Calvin Klein’s sheets on your bed and you wanted that strapless black gown on the red carpet.

Since Klein’s departure in 2003, the brand has had a more disjointed feeling under a series of designers with different points of view. The debut of Simons’s first collection will surely inaugurate a new era for the brand, but what will be more fascinating than his runway show will be to see what he will offer real people? What is Simons’s vision for jeans and underwear? What innovative plans might he have for social media? Sure, the first runway show under Simons will the must see of the season, but I want to see what Calvin Klein Inc. will do for the everyday consumer. Who knows, we could even have another obsession on our hands.