How Design Star Raf Simons is Rebuilding Calvin Klein

By Adrienne Gaffney | August 22, 2017 | People Jan12018_PostCleaning

With a refreshed flagship store and rave runway reviews, design star Raf Simons is rebuilding Calvin Klein from the ground up.


Since arriving at Calvin Klein just over a year ago, Raf Simons has reestablished its cultural cred, but his eyes remain laser-focused on the brand’s future.

It’s a season of fresh starts at Calvin Klein. The first collections from Raf Simons, the new chief creative officer, are emerging in stores, and the brand’s Madison Avenue flagship has reopened with a new design inspired by Simons’s vision for the season.

Having built a reputation as perhaps the greatest talent in fashion today through his work at Jil Sander and Dior, Simons has helped spark excitement about Calvin Klein. The Belgian designer presented his first show to glowing reviews in February, after coming on board in August 2016. The Autumn/Winter collection was filled with primary-color separates, power blazers, plastic trench coats, and—staying true to the brand’s history—plenty of see-through tops.

For the store’s reopening, Simons recruited the artist Sterling Ruby, a longtime collaborator, to create an installation (originally designed by British architect John Pawson) that would play on the themes of the collection and the idea of construction. (The whole building is scheduled for remodeling in the near future.) Ruby’s work is already a part of the Calvin Klein identity: After Simons joined the company, Ruby redesigned two spaces in its Garment District headquarters.

The three-story Madison Avenue flagship is now an arresting yellow (Benjamin Moore’s Delightful Yellow), while the scaffolding that spans the space is intended to convey the idea that this is the start of a new era for Calvin Klein. Vintage quilts are also displayed throughout, reinforcing the elements of Americana in both Ruby’s work and the Calvin Klein ethos. Ruby’s own textile artworks hang alongside them. Building on the sense of home is a new line of Calvin Klein bedding, sold beside home goods from other brands— coffee mugs from Homer Laughlin, vases from celebrated ceramicist Rose Cabat, and vintage Italian glassware.

The Sterling Ruby partnership is the latest in a series of recent branding efforts that have helped Calvin Klein remain firmly in the cultural dialogue. Last winter’s ad campaign for Calvin Klein underwear, featuring the wildly popular male stars of Moonlight, caused a big splash. (Simons also dressed the cast for the Oscars, and star Ashton Sanders attended the Met Ball in one of his looks.) Further cementing his pop-culture cred, Simons worked with photographer Alasdair McLellan on a music video for the song “I Dare You” by the xx, starring Millie Bobby Brown (of Stranger Things) and Paris Jackson.

That’s not to suggest Simons’s focus has strayed from his main gig. In June, he took home CFDA Fashion Awards for Designer of the Year in both menswear and womenswear, becoming only the second designer to do so. The first? Calvin Klein himself, in 1993.