Retailers seemed to be falling all over themselves right after Raf Simons sent his first Calvin Klein Collection down the runway on Friday.
Judging from the standing ovation, Simons gave the industry just what it needed — a spark — and what it wanted, a formula for refreshing the brand and a marriage of creativity with commercial viability. They saw the Calvin Klein DNA infused with Simons’ own modern, dramatic approach to American sportswear.
“I have tears in my eyes. I never thought I would live long enough to see the return of Calvin Klein,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “This is what a fashion show is supposed to do. It’s supposed to emotionally touch you in your soul and in your heart.”
Praising Simons’ fresh interpretation of Americana, Downing said, “Raf has the reputation and talent to really bring an entirely new energy to the city. He’s really raised the bar for New York.
“Craft is so important, and ensuring that the human hand is not lost in our industry,” Downing said. “I loved Raf’s hand-tooled silver rosettes decorating the jackets.”
He said he expects Simons’ aesthetic to trickle down to Calvin Klein’s ready-to-wear business. “I can’t imagine that that’s not the larger vision and that Raf will touch everything,” from advertising to fragrance. “The clothes felt relevant. It’s a moment. Raf lifted the spirits of so many.”
“Calvin was really a smash,” said Linda Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president, women’s fashion director and store presentation. “I thought he was pitch perfect with a lot of homage to the core DNA — you saw the perfect Calvin camel coat and references to CK with all the head-to-toe denim-inspired looks. The reference to an easy, somewhat androgynous mix felt very Calvin. Raf handled some American motifs really well, like the American quilt, varsity references, moto jackets. The most obvious was the fringed American flag scarf skirt.”
While working with some of the core Calvin DNA, “Raf then layered in Raf signatures as well” including “shocks of joyful color, a Prince of Wales tailored jacket over a vivid kelly green knitted rib pencil skirt. He was operating with a lot of engines going.
“In the end you want an inspiring new language. You don’t want customers and the fashion audience to have to intellectualize things. I loved how he had a veneer of the modernist with the plastic layering over men’s top coats and yellow fur women’s coats. He really hit a refresh button and created something new at the same time. Whenever there is this kind of excitement, everybody will be responding. There will be a lot of buzz at retail and with the magazines. Even to change the timing of the show, to the beginning of the week instead of the end, is significant. It signifies change. It’s leading, not following.”
Roopal Patel, Saks Fifth Avenue’s fashion director, said “It was a big day — a new day at Calvin Klein. There was so much anticipation over Raf’s vision and direction. It was refreshing to see him put his own, modern take on American sportswear and what this new Americana is going to be at Calvin Klein. It was very refined, in its element of tailoring and structure in both women’s and men’s, and very red carpet, Hollywood worthy.”
She cited the return to tailoring, structure, military jackets, along with the play on plastic and other futuristic touches, and denim, particularly the head-to-toe looks in men’s, as among the highlights. There was “variety and breadth” to the collection. “And it was so nice to see so many references to America and Raf’s vision to this great nation.”
“I am completely exhilarated by what I saw, based on Raf’s infusing his sensibility but also staying true to the heritage and core beauties of the Calvin Klein brand,” said Brooke Jaffe, operating vice president and fashion director of women’s rtw at Bloomingdale’s. She cited as women’s highlights, the men’s wear suiting with double-breasted blazers proportioned a bit longer and shown with “electric” knit skirts; track pants as “the new pant for the season”; Simons’ unique sensibility with color, highlighted by an evergreen trouser with a yellow-and-white tuxedo stripe down the sides and styled with cowboy boots, and the high-rise jeans with relaxed boot cuts.
“Some of the standout, all-star pieces were his new takes on outerwear,” Jaffe said. “The most over-the-top was the yellow fur coat coated in clear plastic with a crystal encrusted bathrobe style sash. My guess is that will be the most photographed piece….The through-line in men’s and women’s was this updated suit” with a beautiful new color or proportion. “True to the brand, there’s always a bit of that unisex undertone. The tuxedo trouser pant is the key piece that works for both sides.”
“Raf Simons crushed it,” said Kevin Harter, vice president of men’s fashion and home at Bloomingdale’s. “It was the most anticipated show of the week and he didn’t disappoint. The music, the casting and, most importantly, the clothes, were all done to perfection. We’re excited to see where he takes this historic brand into the future.”
“I’ve been waiting so long for the debut of Raf Simons at Calvin Klein,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, designer fashion director of Nordstrom and founder of Jeffrey New York. “He not only lived up to every expectation I could have had, he exceeded them all.”
Simons translated the Calvin Klein codes, while leaving his own mark on the brand, Kalinsky said.
“It was very Calvin Klein,” he added. “There was something about it that was just perfect. He showed me a whole different side of himself. This is the most important thing to happen in New York fashion in I don’t know how long….It’s going to be amazing for our business.”
At Barneys New York, “We unanimously all loved the show,” said Jennifer Sunwoo, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for women’s. “The collection was so fresh and coolly sophisticated, expertly showcasing his incredible ability to capture how both women and men want to dress next season. There were so many amazing items and looks. It was the perfect way to kick off New York Fashion Week. He raised the bar not only for the rest of this week but also for the entire runway season.”