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The days of Calvin Klein showering in the mega-millions of dollars from branded underwear are over.
We figured as much when the storied company announced the arrival of creative director Raf Simons. Today, a rollout of new ads confirm that the brand isn’t standing by any of its old tricks.
The star in these ads? Sterling Ruby. Who’s an artist, not a Bieber or a Jenner.
The ads show models in CK underwear standing in front of paintings created by Ruby, as well as by Richard Prince and Andy Warhol. Ruby will be familiar to anyone who’s followed Simons’ career. The two collaborated together on Simons’ fall 2014 men’s collection and also worked together, coincidentally enough, at the beginning of his tenure at Dior.
But a Hollywood star he is not. In 2016, Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber dominated the brand’s advertisements, and massive campaigns only piled on the star power with Frank Ocean, Kate Moss, and Young Thug.
Simons, on the other hand, travels with a cadre of collaborators, which includes his stop at Calvin Klein. Along with Ruby, longtime Simons right-hand man Pieter Mulier and photographer Willy Vanderperre contributed to the ads. The new logo was designed by graphic designer Peter Saville, from whom Simons has derived inspiration in the past. And these collaborators have pulled their own favorites into the Calvin Klein universe, including models Kike Willems and Jonas Glöer, who have both modeled for Simons and Vanderperre in the past.
These ads are just one more piece of the new Calvin that Simons has remade from its mass image. Even the new made-to-measure program Simons installed to bring services usually reserved for celebs to everyone is a pretty high-falutin way to go mass.
All this to say that when Calvin Klein said it was handing full vision of the brand over to Simons, it wasn’t just lip service. The storied American brand clearly isn’t afraid to trade something that’s actually profitable for the artsy unknown. Even the small bits of clothing in the new ads — especially the famous underwear — aren’t being marketed to you the same: They’ve gone from perfectly touched-up briefs on Bieber to frumpy tighty-whities on faraway models.
It would seem that Simons is signaling a return to the basics, or even a blank slate — one that he can eagerly painted over with a little help from his insider friends.
For a menswear nerd like myself, the transition is wildly exciting. It’s witnessing an icon like Simons revamp a brand that was going mainstream — dangerously so, depending who you ask. But for most people watching at home — like the shoppers who spent $69 million on underwear alone, much of it probably from Urban Outfitters — this a dramatic redirection of a brand they’ve come to know and, most importantly, spend money on. Simons is set to debut his first CK collection on February 10th, and we’ll certainly be interested to see whether or not the clothes are more in the vein of underwear everyone can appreciate or the art looming in the backdrop.