Our Spotlight on Raf Simon’s Move to Calvin Klein


BY CONSTANCE C.R. WHITE

One of the most astonishing takeovers in fashion was the arrival of Raf Simons at Jil Sander several years ago.

This Belgian designer masterfully infused an already distinctive minimalist label with an authentic, yet pointedly innovative, aesthetic. Not at all easy to do. Neiman Marcus’s Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, whose fashion memory is broad, remembers it vividly. “We had a wildly successful Jil Sander business under the direction of Raf,” he said.

Simons’s own collections are invariably provocative, with eclectic riffs on classic menswear like an oddly cut shirt, a cropped pant, an overcoat that is all purity of line, and an individualized pair of Adidas sneakers (he’s collaborated with the brand). He lives, he has said, “for pride in individuality.” Not surprisingly, anticipation is building for his Stateside debut.

Simons couldn’t have timed his arrival in the U.S. any better. Male style is flourishing in America. After seven years at Jil Sander, he was lured away in 2012 to join Dior and is now settling in as Chief Creative Officer of Calvin Klein for both men’s and women’s. Fashion peeps will get to see his eponymous brand during New York Fashion Week: Men’s.

It’s a real boost for NYFW: Men’s, and it will attract more European press and buyers, too.

- Ken Downing

Photo | Willy Vanderperre

Bruce Pask, Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s fashion director, thinks it could represent a sea-change in fashion. “It reminds me of when Helmut Lang moved his show to New York and that shifted the whole show schedule,” he said. “It’s good for New York men’s fashion.”

Like many before it, Simons’s spring collection rummages through youth culture and art, specifically, Robert Mapplethorpe’s delicate and S&M-tinged photographs, which – yes, though pornography has gone mainstream – some of us still find transgressive and disturbing.

This former professor, author and furniture designer, who once collaborated with fellow Belgian Walter van Beirendonck, is among a small coterie of designers who one looks to – in an age of diffuse influencers – to gauge fashion mood and direction.

Warming, perhaps, to his new American base, he’s adopted a kind of Roosevelt policy by way of West Africa – “Speak quietly and carry a big stick: You will go far” – to introduce his first work for Calvin Klein. There were neither bells nor bullhorns signaling the introduction of the fourteen or so “handcrafted and made to measure” pieces that appeared on the Calvin Klein website during the haute couture shows.

“I’m looking forward to women asking for Calvin Klein again,” said Downing, “because I haven’t really been seeing that. It’s a great American moment.” No pressure, Raf.