Raf Simons Out at Calvin Klein

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Raf Simons

The designer dressed A-listers including Julianne Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lee Daniels and Timothée Chalamet, but sales didn’t match the star-studded sparkle.

He’s been a favorite among fashion critics and red-carpet A-listers, but Raf Simons’ star power didn’t translate to anticipated consumer sales, and now he’s out at Calvin Klein.

The Belgian designer’s exit comes less than two years into his tenure at the New York-based label, where he was named chief creative officer in August 2016, and with roughly eight months remaining on his contract. A statement released Friday by parent company PVH Corp said Simons and Calvin Klein were “amicably parting ways” after deciding “on a new brand direction different from Simons’ creative vision.”

Following a seven-year stint at Jil Sander that ended in 2012 and three and a half years as creative director of womenswear at Christian Dior, Simons continued with his eponymous men’s collection after taking on the dual roles of overseeing Calvin Klein’s women’s and men’s signature lines, replacing Francisco Costa and Italo Zucchelli, who had shared the label’s design duties.

The announcement of the beloved designer’s new post quickly made Calvin Klein’s Fall 2017 show the hottest ticket of New York Fashion Week, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore, Millie Bobby Brown, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Bosworth among those on that February front row to view Simons’ forward-thinking take on design ideals he viewed as uniquely American, from cowboy influences like metal-tipped boots to coats featuring an outer layer of clear vinyl, a whimsical riff on the plastic couch cover. 

Early in Simons’ tenure, the brand renamed its high-end Calvin Klein Collection, christening it 205W39NYC, a nod to both its New York address and the desire to put a bit more distance between its most upscale offerings — men’s and women’s signature apparel and a high-end home collection — and the company’s wide range of product lines, from Calvin Klein Jeans and CK Calvin Klein to licensed footwear, eyewear and fragrance. Carey Mulligan, Dakota Johnson, Lee Daniels, Jordan Peele and Timothee Chalamet are among those to wear 205W39NYC at recent events. 

Simons quickly earned accolades for his work, picking up awards for both Womenswear and Menswear Designer of the Year for 2017 from the Council of Fashion Designers of America; he again earned the CFDA trophy for Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2018. “After last year, I feel deeply honored,” Simons said at the June event. “This is not happening in Europe, so it’s really beautiful to experience this. I feel very welcomed as a European — including in bad times, this country is very inspiring to me.” 

Under Simons’ direction, the brand also debuted Calvin Klein by Appointment, a made-to-measure service crafted in the company’s New York atelier; a month after its April 2017 launch, Moore and Paltrow wore Calvin Klein by Appointment at May’s Costume Institute Benefit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. More recently, Rihanna wore a Calvin Klein by Appointment bright fuchsia silk-faille dress in September to a one-year anniversary party in Brooklyn for her Fenty Beauty line.

Simons’ influence also extended to the fragrance collection: On the heels of debuting his Spring 2019 show in September, the brand launched the first scent under his direction, Calvin Klein Women. A splashy party at New York’s Balthazar attracted guests including Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie and Saoirse Ronan, who appeared in the accompanying campaign with Lupita Nyong’o.

Ultimately, the awards and star power didn’t translate to sales. On Nov. 28, Emanuel Chirico, chairman and CEO of New York-based PVH Corp, noted in a third-quarter earnings call that “we are disappointed by the lack of return in our investments,” while also promising that 2019 would bring “a more commercial product and marketing experience,” a pair of frank admissions that many took as a sign of Simons’ imminent departure.

No successor has been named, and included in the company’s statement Friday was the note that Calvin Klein would not present a show during the upcoming New York Fashion Week in February.