Raf Simons: when creativity is not enough

Walter Raymond

As creative director of Calvin Klein, Simons won the Designer of the Year and Designer of the Year award for women's apparel by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the International Designer of the Year for the British Fashion Council in 2017. So, what exactly triggered his departure from Calvin Klein? Read more to find out.

Raf Simons, the former creative director of Calvin Klein, left his position in the middle of a great controversy due to drastic measures that are seldom seen today in haute couture firms. One of those measures included separating the visibility of designers  from the brand shortly after working with the company. At the end of November 2018, the parent company of Calvin Klein, PVH Corp announced that its quarterly revenue fell short of Wall Street forecasts for the first time in two years, causing its shares to fall by 8%.

ckone hero
© Calvin Klein.

Emanuel Chirico, Chairman of the Board of Directors of PVH Corp, announced Raf Simons departure from the brand by saying: “Although many of the product categories performed well, we are disappointed by the lack of performance of our products. investments in Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, and part of the re-released product of Calvin Klein Jeans was too high and did not sell as well as we planned.”

This announcement contrasted sharply with that of less than two years ago, when the arrival of Raf Simons to the brand was formalized. Simons assumed the role of creative director with the premise of increasing Calvin Klein’s income from $8,000 to $10 billion, but during his time with the company something failed, despite his efforts and creative ideas.

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© Calvin Klein.

Impeccable but insufficient

As creative director of Calvin Klein, Simons won the Designer of the Year and Designer of the Year award for women’s clothing  from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), as well as the International Fashion Designer of the Year award by the British Fashion Council in 2017.

Simons also added to the traditional American aesthetics of the brand and incorporated designs by Andy Warhol into the brand’s men and women fashion lines. However, his attempt to grow the new image of Calvin Klein, through advertisements featuring the Kardashians, was viewed poorly by many analysts, along with his efforts to change the brand’s target audience from adult women to millennials.

raf simmons
© Calvin Klein.

While Calvin Klein’s collections were awarded by the industry, success was not reflected in sales or in the economic spillover that everyone expected, resulting in management and the former creative director of the brand leaving more unknowns than certainties and results.

The creative path of Raf Simons

Raf Simons was born in 1968, in a rural village in Belgium. After earning a degree in industrial design, he worked as a fellow with Walter Van Beirendonck, and then became a member of the Six of Antwerp, a Belgian group of avant-garde fashion designers.

Shortly after that he worked as a furniture designer for a couple of years, and in 1995 launched his men’s fashion line. The following year, he would go on to work with designer, Veronique Branquinho, and present his first fashion show in Paris.

f18 kj 16
© Calvin Klein.

In 2000 he ended his professional relationship with Branquinho and began to give fashion classes at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. In June of the following year he presented a collection in Paris, for the Gysemans Clothing Group of Belgium, starring models dressed in aggressive sweatshirts and wearing masks, flares and dark hoods. Unfortunately the attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred not long after the collection launched, causing a large amount of backlash against his designs, which deemed as having a “terrorist” aesthetic.

In May 2005, however, the designer took over the brand Jil Sander, until 2012, when Sander became creative director.

raf simmons
© Calvin Klein.

In April 2012, Maison Dior officially announced that Raf Simons would take over as creative director before the departure of John Galliano. The partnership with the brand lasted three years, until August 2016, as the fashion world reeled over the announcement that Raf Simons would assume the role of creative director of the male and female lines of Calvin Klein.

Although one month has passed since the abrupt departure of Raf Simons from Calvin Klein, the brand continues to evaluate how to proceed in face of this event. For now, they have decided to close their emblematic store on Madison Avenue in New York that Simons remodeled with the artist Sterling Ruby, to undergo a major remodeling, along with evaluating whether or not to cancel his fashion show at February Fashion Week in New York. ■

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