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Calvin Klein Underwear will kick off its 25th anniversary with a bold new face and body for the worldwide launch of Calvin Klein Steel for men — Djimon Hounsou.

The actor, who was nominated for his second Academy Award this year for “Blood Diamond,” is known for his performances in “Gladiator” and “Amistad.” He worked out for months to sculpt his physique for the international print and outdoor advertising campaign, which will appear in 20 countries and coincide with September magazine issues, said Malcolm Carfrae, senior vice president of global communications at Calvin Klein Inc.

The ads will also appear on billboards on Houston and Lafayette Streets in Manhattan’s SoHo and along the Long Island Expressway, on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, on bus shelters in Miami and on bus sides in San Francisco. There will be what Carfrae described as “nonconventional but totally legal ads on street walls and building sites” in Manhattan. The billboard campaign will cover Europe, Asia, Canada and Latin America.

Photographed by Peter Lindbergh in Palm Springs, Calif., where the temperature was well over 100 degrees, the black-and-white campaign, with strong, almost surreal imagery and created by CRK with Fabien Baron, mirrors the original iconic Calvin Klein Underwear ads photographed by Bruce Weber.

“Calvin Klein Underwear [for men] has always had this iconic status of masculinity,” Carfrae said. “Hounsou really worked out and took it very seriously to be the best shape he could be. In between shoots, we were giving him sponge baths because it was so hot. I went to a fitting in Los Angeles before the shoot. He was truly professional, easy-going and really believed in the product.”

Hounsou, 42, is accustomed to the glam and glitz of the entertainment business, but he may not be prepared for the media frenzy to which celebrity models are usually exposed, especially as the new face for Calvin Klein men’s underwear.

“You can never adequately prepare for such a thing, but I imagine it’s going to receive an overwhelming amount of attention,” Hounsou said in a statement. “I psyched myself up for the job. Most of the time it has to do with the rapport one has with the photographer. Generally, I try to determine if he or she has any preconceived ideas about how they want to shoot it and then I contribute my ideas.”

This story first appeared in the July 16, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Calvin Klein Steel for men, as well as a women’s collection, will be in stores in August. Calvin Klein Steel for women will be available exclusively in the U.S. at Macy’s East and West, and the men’s collection will be sold at major department stores nationwide. In Europe, both the men’s and women’s lines will be carried at Printemps in France, La Rinascente in Italy, ECI in Spain, Selfridges in the U.K. and at freestanding Calvin Klein Underwear stores.

Tom Murry, president and chief operating officer of CKI, a subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., said of Hounsou, “He looks like steel. We thought he was the absolutely perfect talent we were looking for. We also thought it was significant to have a celebrity. It’s important from an advertising standpoint and a public relations standpoint.”

Previous celebrity models for the brand have been Marc Wahlberg, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington and Freddie Lundberg.

Murry would not disclose the advertising budget, but said, “It is a very significant spend. The ad budget has been increased globally.” Overall, “well over $200 million” is spent annually to advertise and market all Calvin Klein products, he said.

Regarding the target customer, Murry said, “We’re not trying to reach a new consumer base. Calvin Klein Underwear for men is very strong all over the world. It’s another product launch that will continue to sell to our existing base and will pick up additional customers.”

Murry noted the Calvin Klein Underwear business for men and women, a division of The Warnaco Group, was “very strong in Europe, Asia and China.” Warnaco Group hold the global rights to Calvin Klein Underwear, but CKI has traditionally overseen the brand’s marketing and advertising.

“In addition to thousands of point-of-sale businesses, freestanding Calvin Klein Underwear stores are very important,” he said. “We have over 100 stores around the world with our partners at Warnaco, 50 of which are in Asia. We do approximately 50 percent of Calvin Klein Underwear business outside of the U.S., approximately half in Europe, the Mideast and China. But Asia is growing fast.”

The Calvin Klein Underwear businesses for men and women are robust. In February, Joseph Gromek, president and chief executive officer of Warnaco, told analysts, “We finished the year on a high note, led by the performance of our Calvin Klein businesses [including jeans and swimwear], which collectively surpassed $1 billion in fiscal revenues.” Warnaco’s intimates business was fueled by Calvin Klein Underwear, which he described as the “crown jewel in our portfolio. Revenues grew 18 percent in 2006, and we believe we will exceed our $500 million target over the next two years as we continue to focus on product innovation, geographic expansion and a direct-to-consumer initiative.”

The men’s and women Steel lines both will feature a wide silver-tone waistband of soft microfiber with an oversize Calvin Klein logo. The women’s line will be rendered in a blend of cotton, and Lycra spandex and elastane. Colors will be black, white, bluebird and evergreen. Steel for men will add two new fabrics, an enhanced lightweight cotton and an exclusive new microfiber. Colors will be heather, gray, black and white.

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