Calvin Klein confirmed today the long-rumored appointment of Raf Simons. The Belgian designer replaces Francisco Costa on the women’s side, and Italo Zucchelli on the men’s, both of whom exited the company in April of this year, as Calvin Klein’s chief creative officer. The news has galvanizing potential, and not just for fans of Simons’s 21-year-old eponymous men’s collection or of his work at Jil Sander or Christian Dior, the prestigious French fashion house he abruptly left last October. He’s good for New York fashion.
Simons is a designer’s designer. His July 2012 haute couture debut for Dior was attended by Azzedine Alaïa, Donatella Versace, Alber Elbaz, Riccardo Tisci, Diane von Furstenberg, and Olivier Theyskens, lending the changing-of-the-guard moment an historic aspect. Simons’s Dior was a markedly different one than that of his predecessor John Galliano, modernist and introspective, where Galliano’s was historicist and flamboyant, and the influence of his sleek minimalism spread across fashion’s four capital cities. Off-White founder and Kanye West’s creative director Virgil Abloh, meanwhile, is an obsessive collector of Simons’s menswear; “he’s my Martin Margiela, my Michael Jordan,” he told me. To look at the output of Simons and Abloh is to see a direct link.
Soon, Simons will be a New Yorker, mingling at industry events and negotiating crowded Garment District streets, but he’ll bring the glamour and buzz of Paris to the Big Apple with him. Editors, buyers, and other influencers who leave New York early to get to London for its collections, or who go home for a little R&R in advance of Milan and Paris, will be inclined to stick it out until Calvin’s traditional end-of-week show to discover for themselves how the intellectually inclined Simons will interpret the spare sensuality that is the Calvin signature. Or maybe Simons will put his stamp on things with a new Fashion Week slot? As the hottest ticket in town (sorry Marc, Alex, et al), he’d have that prerogative. A new day and time for Calvin Klein could reshuffle the whole New York schedule.
Simons’s arrival would augur changes beyond the temporal, though. His presence here will give established New York names some stiff competition. With the stakes raised, the best of the local bunch will elevate their games, which in turn will mean a more thrilling New York season all around.
And just in time. It’s hard to argue with the fact that the fashion action is solidly on the other side of the pond these days. Paris has the Gvasalia brothers, who are shaking things up at Vetements and Balenciaga; Milan feels freshly energized with Alessandro Michele at Gucci; and London is home base to Jonathan Anderson, arguably one of the most referenced designers today. New York has long had a reputation as the most commercially oriented of the four major fashion cities. As a local, the complaints from out-of-towners about New York—you know who you are—are predictable and tiresome. But even editors more boosterish than I am would likely admit that the February talk of see-now-buy-now this and selling straight off the runway that put the focus too squarely on saleability—to the detriment of creativity. It doesn’t help matters that it feels as though celebrity designers (sorry Kanye, Rihanna, et al) have begun crowding out legitimate designers here. Simons, with plenty of star power of his own, will help New York get some cred back.
That’s the bigger picture. At the Calvin Klein level, Simons is bound to make an impact, as well. Not since Calvin himself left in 2003 has one person overseen the creative vision of the entire company. The timing is interesting. Burberry, Gucci, and Vetements have all announced plans to combine their men’s and women’s collections into one show, mostly in an effort to improve the delivery of products to stores. For years, Calvin Klein has staged its women’s shows at home in New York and its men’s in Milan. With Simons handling both collections (as well as the moneymaking categories of fragrance, underwear, and jeans), there’s an opportunity to consolidate them into one mega-show, strengthening the brand message, which has faltered as a new generation of New York brands has come up (The Row comes to mind), and building the growing argument for unified women’s and men’s Fashion Weeks.
Simons is used to working quickly. He put on his final Jil Sander show at the end of February 2012, and presented his Dior debut in early July of the same year. A combined men’s and women’s Calvin Klein show to kick off New York Fashion Week next February? One thing’s for certain: It would make for one hell of an entrance.