Calvin Klein Says Designer Fashion Is Over
The brand is closing its high-end line, in a move that could have ripple effects across the American fashion industry.
Calvin Klein is getting out of fashion. At least the trendsetting, wardrobe-shaping kind.
On Thursday, the brand whose combination of sex appeal and minimal sportswear helped define American style for an international audience, and which was once a tent pole of the New York Fashion Week schedule, said that it would be closing its luxury collection business.
“Collection” is the official designation of the line shown during fashion week. It is the most expensive part of the business and accounts for the clothes most often seen in glossy magazine shoots and on celebrities. Calvin Klein is, at least for the foreseeable future, leaving the runway behind.
The move comes three months after the departure of Calvin Klein’s chief creative officer, the Belgian designer Raf Simons, whose appointment had been announced with great fanfare in 2016 (and who had changed the name Collection to 205W39NYC, after the address of the brand’s headquarters). His ascension was billed as a return to the years of Calvin Klein, when one visionary designer was responsible for all aspects of the brand. Closing the brand’s collection business marks not only a complete reversal of that decision, but the rejection of a business model long held dear in the industry: the so-called “halo” effect of a high-end line that acts as an attention-getter and newsmaker, driving sales of more mass (and profit-generating) jeans, underwear and perfume.
This has long been American fashion’s favorite pyramid scheme, practiced by brands including Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, both of which are built on a base of affordable products bathed in the glow of aspiration from the top (what luxury executives like to refer to as “the dream”). In this strategic plan, sales of the high-end clothes may be relatively small, but the desire and name-recognition those clothes create act as crucial drivers for other lines. As do the celebrities they attract.
See, for example, Lupita Nyong’o in purple beaded Calvin Klein on the red carpet at the Golden Globes, and Lady Gaga in a blush-pink strapless column at the Critics’ Choice Awards. Or the assortment of boldfaced names that graced last September’s front row, including Rami Malek, Saoirse Ronan, Millie Bobby Brown, Laura Dern, ASAP Rocky and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Former Calvin Klein chief executive Tom Murry used to refer to the runway line as a “marketing expense.” When Mr. Simons took over in 2016, the collection business accounted for less than 5 percent of salesof the $8.2 billion brand. The bet was it could grow. However, while Mr. Simons won multiple awards for both men’s and women’s wear, his aesthetic twisted the American dream into something darker and more complicated than the brand’s consumer base was accustomed to. Its parent company, the publicly traded PVH, could not swallow it.