NEW YORK — Dolly Parton may have been right in the first row at Calvin Klein, but she couldn’t be further away from the customer he wants to reach.

Over the last few years, Calvin has deliberately moved away from the American sportswear mainstream toward an edgier fashion that seeks to combine avant-garde minimalism with good old-fashioned dollars and cents.

Calvin is also careful of his image — and works hard to stay plugged-in. “I appreciate people who are hip, and I want my clothes to be part of that,” he has said. “I’ve always had respect for people who know instinctively what’s going on, what’s trendy, who are the first to recognize something.”

At the moment, Calvin is on the same wavelength as Miuccia Prada and, to a lesser degree, Jil Sander. That means clothes that are austere, neutral-toned, and — biggest surprise of all — just below the knee. In his shows, he likes his models to look exaggeratedly plain, but, in fact, what Calvin has is an ability to infuse sex appeal into almost any silhouette. And the collection he showed Wednesday morning was both sober and sexy.

Before the show, Calvin said what designers love to say — that length shouldn’t be an issue. But then he virtually flaunted his new, below-the-knee skirts and dresses with an audacity that made others’ attempts at the length look timid indeed.

It was most startling when shown with Calvin’s beautiful shaped jackets, cut boxy or close to the body. His newest dresses were high-waisted, with fine-pleated skirts, but he also cropped off some of those floral gauze floaters he likes so much. Klein’s cashmere sweaters and shirts followed the same geometric lines as the jackets, and his coats were fabulous. Simply cut and with little collars, they had a childlike, almost vintage appeal.

After the show, some retailers said this collection might be a hard sell. But then, they’ve said this about other Calvin collections. And even they admit they’ve been wrong.

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