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Calvin Klein’s Kevin Carrigan on the Modern Man

While there are unified product themes across the brand internationally, portions of the assortments are tailored to specific markets.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 03/28/2013

Video killed the mood board — at least in some ateliers of Calvin Klein. Magazine cutouts and tacked up photos are a thing of the past there, replaced by digital video presentations. “We use moving imagery and digital imagery to create the mood of the season,” said Kevin Carrigan, global creative director of the ck Calvin Klein bridge business, the Calvin Klein white label better business and Calvin Klein Jeans.

Twice a year, the global team of more than 200 Calvin Klein designers convenes in New York to plot out upcoming product ranges, a year and a half before the merchandise hits retail stores. While there are unified product themes internationally, portions of the assortments are tailored to specific markets. “We integrate the global message but with regional execution,” said Carrigan, in an on stage interview with Alex Badia, WWD’s men’s fashion editor. “We do about 30 to 40 percent regional variations,” due to differences in climates and varying preferences for fabrics and colors.

Carrigan travels six months out of the year to keep his finger on the pulse of global trends. “My travel budget is probably the largest at Calvin Klein. I normally loop the world a couple of times in a season,” he noted, rattling off Asian, European and South American cities on his seasonal circuit. “There’s nothing better than learning on the ground [about] cultural differences and the relevance of each market. If you want to break into new markets, you have to partner with people there who have local knowledge.”

Brazil is a crucial barometer for future trends and a country Carrigan visits often, particularly due to its location in the southern hemisphere. “There’s reverse seasons there. Something that is happening down in Brazil can influence the U.S. market in six months,” said Carrigan. “It could be a new fit or the way they are wearing their T-shirts or the slub of a T-shirt. Sharing that information [with my teams] is one big part of my role as well.”

Calvin Klein has been an early pioneer in tapping developing markets. “We talk about these new emerging BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] markets, but we’ve been in them for over a decade,” said Carrigan.
As of Dec. 31, Calvin Klein and its local partners operated 783 full-priced stores globally, spanning the portfolio of Calvin Klein brands, including Calvin Klein Collection, ck Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Underwear and Calvin Klein Performance, not counting outlets or shops-in-shop. Among those stores, 244 were in China and 86 were in Brazil.

The design teams around the world communicate digitally throughout the year. “To me that is part and parcel of a 21st century designer. The communication skill set is 24/7,” said Carrigan, who joined Calvin Klein in 1998 after working for Max Mara in Italy and Nicole Farhi in London.

At the start of each design season, Carrigan begins conceptualizing ideas via a written e-mail to his teams. “It’s really weird. I’m on a plane, it’s my downtime. I’m thinking about words and emotions of what I want to say in a season. It really starts in a really instinctual designer process,” he explained.

For this current spring, the theme was “light,” for example. “It was about shadows. The positives and negatives of light. The graphicness of being in light. The black and white of light,” said Carrigan, noting that concurrent museum exhibitions in Tokyo and London on the topic helped trigger the motif. “Light seemed to be a good, optimistic word for 2013 and there were a lot of things I could use with light: the perspective of light, the reflection of light. How light reflected off fabrics and how you could put textures together.”

Carrigan is one of five creative directors at Calvin Klein, who each oversee different parts of the brand. Francisco Costa designs the women’s Calvin Klein Collection line, Italo Zucchelli does men’s Collection, Ulrich Grimm oversees men’s and women’s shoes and accessories and Amy Mellen is responsible for the home business.

“We are all drinking from the same source. There’s a vast [Calvin Klein] archive,” said Carrigan. “Since 1968, we have every collection — hundreds and hundreds of garments — that Mr. Klein designed himself over 30 years. It’s overwhelming. It’s kind of intimidating to see that body of work over 30 years. We all use it and use that creative inspiration.”

Hollywood is a continuing touch point for Carrigan in his efforts to remain current with the tastes and preferences of male consumers. “If you look at modern-day Hollywood, you look at Leo DiCaprio. What Ben Affleck did with ‘Argo.’ It’s about how they act, what they’re interested in, their charities. That’s the modern man. Those guys are always on my mind,” he said.

For new designers, Carrigan emphasized that offering a distinctive voice is crucial to carving out a niche in the crowded fashion marketplace. “You have to have a point of view. Even when I worked with Calvin, before we had a better sportswear line, we talked a lot about going into that area and that segment. He was like, ‘I want to go into that area, but I need to have a point of view. What is our point of view in that area?’ I think for newer brands, the marketplace is saturated. There are plenty of clothes out there. So, what is your point of view?”

Carrigan pointed to the consistency of Calvin Klein’s product and marketing over the years in burnishing the brand in consumers’ minds. “You can tell who a Calvin Klein guy is and who a Calvin Klein woman is. We are based in modern, and that to me is the secret. It’s the fit, the proportion, fabric innovation, technology and absolutely about being current. It’s about being culturally relevant.”