NEW YORK — Raf Simons has transformed the codes of Calvin Klein over the last two years. Now he’s aiming to do the same with Calvin Klein Jeans, serving up a completely reimagined collection that hits stores next month.
The line emphasizes utility, pop-inflected irreverence, high-low ethos, big logos and a theme Simons has made his own at Calvin: Americana.
Trucker jackets, the Western shirt, the cowboy boot, the baseball cap and the bandana — all things the chief creative officer has made signatures of his women’s and men’s collections at Calvin since taking over almost two years ago — are remixed and reworked in the fall women’s and men’s jeans collections with colorblocking and patchwork denim. The collection is chock-a-block with oversized logos and monograms. There’s also an Andy Warhol segment (another Simons signature at Calvin), which features the late artist’s self-portrait on jeans, T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Calvin Klein Jeans will also launch the Denim Index for fall, which is a comprehensive, numeric fit matrix inspired by the Periodic Table of the Elements. The Denim Index is made up of 11 women’s and 11 men’s fits and will be installed in the company’s in-store shops and retailers worldwide.
In an exclusive interview, Steve Shiffman, chief executive officer of Calvin Klein Inc., explained the rationale for redesigning Calvin Klein Jeans at this juncture and the global rollout plan for the collection, which in the past has been a key revenue driver for the brand and which he expects to be so again.
“Clearly in 1978 we created the category, designer jeans. After the Warnaco acquisition five years ago, it was very clear to me that we had a significant opportunity to re-earn, re-own and regain our position as the number-one designer jeans brand in the world,” said Shiffman, who was interviewed at the Calvin Klein Jeans showroom at 501 Seventh Avenue here, surrounded by spring 2019 merchandise.
PVH Corp. acquired Warnaco Group, which controlled the Calvin Klein Jeans and Underwear licenses, in 2013 in a $2.9 billion deal. Calvin Klein Jeans became the most challenging of those businesses acquired, and in the first few years PVH worked to clean up distribution by limiting the brand in the off-price channel. “It’s been a journey over the last two years. They’ve really made progress,” Shiffman said.
For fall, the Calvin Klein Jeans collection will be sold at retailers such as Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Amazon and Hudson’s Bay. In Europe, it will be carried in such stores as El Corte Inglés, Asos, Zalando, Urban Outfitters and Galeries Lafayette. In Japan, it will be distributed to United Arrows, B&Y and Journal Standard, and in Korea, Lotte, Hyundai and Shinsegae, among others.
While the look is elevated and the fabrics upgraded, Shiffman said it won’t be that much more expensive than it’s historically been. “We’re been very conscious of the consumer’s appetite and the value proposition. We’ve raised our prices a little, but nothing significant,” he said. Wholesale prices range from $15 to $90.
Under the direction of Simons and Pieter Mulier, creative director of Calvin Klein, the collection ranges from blue denim utility shirts, overall pants and trucker pants to turtleneck sweaters, puffer coats, maxi dresses, coach’s jackets, a guitar bag, leather boots, backpacks, caps, camera bags, clutches and flap bags. Large Calvin Klein logos are evident throughout. The company has also reimagined the omega, the distinctive stitching on the back pocket that was introduced in 1978.
Shiffman said fall 2018 is when Simons’ codes come to life “and I’m very proud of how the line came together.” While the collection skews slightly more to men’s than women’s, he sees women’s gaining ground. “With a lot of the initiatives that we put into place, and all the fits that we have, I believe that we will grow the women’s business,” said Shiffman.
He explained that when Calvin Klein took the jeans line back from Warnaco, the company thought about how it wanted to elevate the aesthetics and the quality of its denim line.
“It was also apparent to me at that time, we needed to create global fits. It’s been almost a two-year journey to get it right, everything from fabrics, the shapes, seams, the stitching,” he said. “Almost everything changed. We put in 11 fits for each gender,” he pointed out. For women, the fits include superskinny, skinny, slim, straight, boy and boot, and for men, a sampling includes skinny, slim, straight and taper.
He said fits that are popular in Asia would be different than those in America. “Clearly we have an opportunity with our regional team to buy the fits that are most appropriate for the consumer,” he said.
The Denim Index is a fit guide available at various points of sale, including retail and wholesale, as well as e-commerce. In-store, the Denim Index will be displayed on signage and interactive screens. Online, there will be a dedicated fit guide and quiz to help consumers find their fit. The interactive screens will guide consumers to the various fits, each numbered with three digits. The first two digits guide the leg shape and the last digit guides the rise. The lower the number, the slimmer the fit. For example, the women’s “SuperSkinny” is numbered 001. “It’s very digital and we do have print capabilities for stores that don’t have digital offerings. It’s fairly lengthy, it could be seen as complex, but it’s really very simple. It’s really shape-driven,” said Shiffman.
Calvin Klein will have its own teams working with the retailer’s teams to educate them on the index and the presentation. “We had different fits by region. This is the first time we’ve globalized all our fits. It’s up to the store to decide which fits to bring in,” he said.
He also noted that the quality of the fabrics is more elevated. “It’s more robust, it’s a very impressive assortment,” he added. Shiffman noted that the redesign is Simons’ creative vision, from the branding to the aesthetics to the brand codes that permeate the collection.
Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, the designer collection, has a smattering of denim, which is all Italian denim. Calvin Klein Jeans sources its denim globally.
Describing the aesthetics of the Calvin Klein Jeans collection, Shiffman said the themes play on Americana. Some of the jeans have a marching band stripe running down the side, a design element Simons has used in the 205W39NYC collection. These themes will continue.
“We’re not looking to drop in codes and then walk away from them. These codes will become part of the language of the brand. Obviously each season we’ll evolve them, and modernize them, and there’s also a level of authenticity,” Shiffman noted.
Asked whether Calvin Klein Jeans will become the biggest division at Calvin Klein, Shiffman replied, “I think that it will grow very significantly. It’s not the biggest division. We have a very balanced portfolio. Certainly when we bought Warnaco, underwear was a much bigger category. We’re seeing jeans grow, as well as underwear continues to do, we’re seeing jeans growing at a very fast rate across the globe,” he said.
He noted that G-III Apparel Group is the company’s licensed division for women’s sportswear. “They continue to do very well. It’s a significant business.”
Shiffman believes that the new Calvin Klein Jeans collection is targeted toward established customers as well as the Millennial consumer. There will still be fits and looks for the customer who grew up with Calvin Klein Jeans, but “I think it’s self-evident when you look at this line, that it’s geared toward the Millennial consumer. Or let me rephrase that, somebody with a more youthful mind-set,” he said.
“One of the beauties of our brand is that, regardless of age, our brand awareness is particularly acute,” added Shiffman. “If there’s any exposure to a younger client base, it’s the different product categories that we offer. We clearly invest significantly in marketing and have a robust marketing campaign.”
To accompany the relaunch, Calvin Klein Jeans will have a global campaign that will come out later this summer. Shiffman declined to reveal any details about the campaign or who would be featured. “We’re making a significant effort in all our social channels. Everything we do is 360; we have experiential plans with multiple partners, not just ourselves, but a lot of our business partners throughout the globe,” he said. Calvin Klein Inc.’s chief marketing officer is Marie Gulin-Merle, who joined in May from L’Oréal USA.
Calvin Klein Jeans will also offer some exclusive capsules, but wouldn’t divulge the retail partners. Most of the fall line will be in stores in August and September. A few styles will go in during July.
Shiffman believes the bread and butter of Calvin Klein Jeans in North America will be in the $80 to $90 retail price range. In Europe, the sweet spot would be 100 euros and can go up to 200 euros. In Asia, it’s slightly higher priced. The jeans are manufactured in Europe and Asia.
He anticipates that the bulk of the volume will be generated by jeans, the single largest category, although T-shirts and tops are important as well. A key element of the line is the Calvin Klein Jeans logo. “You look at what’s going on in the world today, the logo is very important. It’s a trend that’s been around and continues to be important. We have complete re-branding,” he said.
“When Raf came in, we looked at all of our branding. We changed all the branding in all of our lines. The jeans piece might be the most prominent. Everything is capital letters. The back patch is striking. The inside label is all caps,” he said.
Turning to the Calvin Klein 205W39NYC designer collection, Shiffman said, “It’s doing very well. Business has been very good. It’s incredibly exciting. How often do you have an opportunity to take a $9 billion [Calvin Klein] brand [in global retail sales] and transform it? And continue to see it grow, not only its economic performance, but to become one of the most relevant brands in the world. It’s an incredibly exciting time for Calvin Klein and the PVH Corp.,” he said.
Shiffman said the plan is to expand the footprint of 205W39NYC, the world of Calvin Klein, as well as jeans, underwear and other specific categories with its own freestanding stores.
At present, there’s only one dedicated Calvin Klein 205W39NYC store in the world, on Madison Avenue in New York. The company is planning to open more, however. “We’re looking at Rodeo Drive, Paris, London, Tokyo, Beijing,” he said. The store would be owned and operated by Calvin Klein. He said hopefully a second unit will open late next year. “We’re trying to find quality locations and building them out is not for the faint of heart. It’s not exactly a rapid process,” he said. He’s also probing another collection store in New York.
In discussing how large the jeans business is, Shiffman declined to give a volume figure. “It’s a sizable business, it’s growing to be one of our larger categories. As I indicated, with the Warnaco acquisition, it was significantly underperforming. I’m proud of the job our team has done so far and will do in the future,” he said.
Amy Carton, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of women’s apparel at Nordstrom, said that Calvin Klein Jeans women’s line will be carried in 25 Nordstrom stores and online next month. “We think it’s an exciting complement to our street heritage shop, which is what our customer is looking for. Nineties brands are really resonating and what CK Jeans has done with the line is a fresh twist…each month has a great color point of view and we love the smart use of new CK logos,” she said.
More than 300 Macy’s stores nationwide and macys.com will carry Calvin Klein Jeans.
“We believe Macy’s customer will be inspired by Raf’s visionary take on an iconic American designer brand. It is also one of the purest interpretations of a global design message that translates to a broader consumer while also being accessible without losing the intended aesthetic,” said Durand Guion, group vice president, fashion director at Macy’s.
He noted that Macy’s team’s reaction to the reimagined product in the showroom “was punctuated with a high level of excitement as it relates to maintaining our existing customer and inviting a new one to experience the collection.
“The new collection feels incredibly modern and fashion-focused, which is exactly what we want to offer our customers,” added Guion. Calvin Klein Jeans will be a part of Macy’s back-to-school style and fall curated selection of the season’s trends, Macy’s Presents the Edit and “It List.”
Shiffman said they’re being careful with Calvin Klein Jeans distribution.
“We don’t want to be everything to everybody. We want to be patient. This is a long-term play. It’s not ‘let’s open the floodgates.’ Whatever we do, regardless of our trading partners, we want to do it the right way. We want our partners to be patient with us as well,” he said.
“I’ve challenged the teams to be much more diligent that our presentations are up to speed. Certainly across the globe. Europe, we have many conversations. We’re always looking for formidable presentations. Sometimes we’ll test something with a pop-up store,” which it recently did in Germany.
For Calvin Klein Jeans, the bulk of the business is in Europe and Asia. So the U.S. represents a significant opportunity, although Shiffman sees that as longer term, despite the brand being based here.
“I believe the single biggest growth continent for us right now is Europe and the Middle East in the next three to five years,” he said. “Because the jeans business from the previous licensee was not run in a way that was respectful to the brand, the U.S. is in a rebuilding mode. I’m confident it will be much more significant and profitable business as we go into the future.”