Raf Simons at Calvin Klein Has the Potential to Reshape American Fashion

Eric Wilson is InStyle's fashion news director. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. 

Raf Simons
Photo: Rindoff/Dufour/French Select/Getty Images

It’s fashion’s version of hitting the reset button.

In a widely expected move, one that has the potential to reshape the American fashion industry, Raf Simons has been confirmed as chief creative officer of Calvin Klein. Simons, the inventive Belgian designer who was most recently women’s creative director of Christian Dior Couture in Paris for three years, is relocating to New York City to take over the direction of one of the best known sportswear brands in the world, with nearly $3 billion in annual sales.

The appointment will almost certainly bring a boost to New York’s designer community, which hasn’t had such a hugely influential European design star among its ranks since Helmut Lang resigned from his signature label more than a decade ago. And it comes at a moment when the industry in general has been in a state of almost weekly upheaval, with major designer moves and shuffles, most recently including the departure of Peter Copping from Oscar de la Renta, the arrival of Maria Grazia Chiuri to replace Simons at Dior, and LVMH’s sale of Donna Karan and DKNY to G-III last month.

What Simons will bring to Calvin Klein – the label famous for sexually provocative ads, phenomenally popular underwear and jeans, and a clean, minimal aesthetic on the runway – has captivated editors and retailers for months. As a wildly popular designer, Simons has the benefit of an enormous amount of industry goodwill, not to mention a sterling reputation for creating designs that are both rigorously thoughtful and commercially viable. His work for Dior (and Jil Sander before that) often blended the clean and pure ideas of minimalism with striking historic dressmaking details and references to modern art or contemporary street culture.

That makes him an ideal candidate as a successor to Calvin Klein himself, a devoted modernist who semi-retired in 2003 after building an enormously profitable company with famously provocative advertising campaigns. Klein, who sold the business to PVH, left his company in the capable hands of Francisco Costa for women’s wear and Italo Zucchelli for men’s wear, both of whom left the company this year. And while their runway successes were many, the designer collections became an increasingly small part of the business, often at odds with the image of the lower-priced sportswear and underwear products sold worldwide.

That was part of the reasoning for the appointment of Simons as the creative executive overseeing all product – obviously a tall order and a somewhat surprising one, given Simons’s past complaints about the demands designers face today to produce so much. It may help that Calvin Klein also named Peter Mulier, his longtime collaborator, as creative director, responsible for executing Simons’s vision across all its product categories. And he’ll have some time to settle in – as the first runway collection won’t be shown until next year, for the Fall 2017 season.

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