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Calvin Klein’s New Recipe for Mass Appeal Isn’t Very Mass

The brand now offers a by-appointment shopping experience in New York.

Millie Bobby Brown wears a red and yellow shirt and red trousers. Photos: Calvin Klein

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The Calvin Klein we’ve come to know in the past few years is arty and frequently sexy, rich in color and young celebrity hired to hawk its underwear, jeans, and sweaters. Sans shirts, Justin Bieber and Bella Hadid presented a 21st century vision of the brand’s iconic ’80s and ’90s advertisements starring Brooke Shields, Kate Moss, and Mark Wahlberg, updated for the social media set.

It was a winning formula: Revenue for the brand increased 21 percent during fiscal 2015.

That was before Raf Simons, the former creative director of Dior who was appointed Calvin Klein’s chief creative officer in August, got to work. Over the weekend, Simons finally unveiled a first glimpse of his plan for the brand (h/t Cathy Horyn at The Cut).

Still arty, Calvin Klein’s gluttonous approach to celebrity and sexual undertones have been replaced by highbrow minimalism.

Simons's inaugural offering for the brand is a bespoke clothing line called “Calvin Klein by Appointment.” As the website explains, in a text-heavy and rather heady manner, Calvin Klein will offer 14 looks that shoppers can order made-to-measure in its New York studio.

Julia Nobis appears in Calvin Klein by Appointment’s imagery.
Julia Nobis appears in Calvin Klein by Appointment’s imagery.

The photos for the new collection are signature Simons: Shot in quiet, pale light or black-and-white by Willy Vanderperre, they feature high fashion models like Julia Nobis, Natalie Westling, and Mica Arganaraz, all of whom appeared in Dior ads shot by Vanderperre during Simons’s tenure. Whereas Kendall Jenner has figured heavily into Calvin Klein’s ads in the last few years, the most notable celebrity here is Millie Bobby Brown, the 12-year-old breakout star of Stranger Things. There is underwear on view, but rather than living on a person, it’s documented flat, like a scientific specimen.

In short, the mass appeal inherent in the vivid Jenner and Bieber images has been sucked out of it, in spite of the fact that the point of Calvin Klein by Appointment is to make its celebrity by-appointment service available to everyone. It’s a democratic gesture, but one clearly not intended for scale.

All of which is kind of to be expected. Simons is a fashion person’s fashion person, idolized by menswear enthusiasts and womenswear editors alike. Love for his work runs deep, but not particularly wide.

The question that remains is whether he can be mass. We’ll have a better sense for that when he debuts his Calvin Klein at New York Fashion Week next month, and, perhaps more importantly, when he starts pushing out ad campaigns after that. Calvin Klein has worked hard in the last few years to cement its aesthetic in young shoppers’ minds, and it’s been selling. Would it really mess with that?