Calvin Klein's Modern America
By: Iona Bielby
With its controversial campaigns and signature minimal style, Calvin Klein has gained the exclusive reputation of a creatively daring fashion powerhouse.
But with Raf Simons as its latest Creative Director, the brand is embracing another side of its rambunctious personality: Modern America.
As a European living in the States for the first time, Simons naturally possesses a new outlook on what it means to be American. “He sees what Americans take for granted,” says Calvin Klein’s Global Brand Consultant, Lesley Bielby. “He’s inspired by pom-poms, cheerleaders, cops, overalls, quilts—all which are part of the iconography that’s been in America for decades.” Raf’s ability to transform old obsessions with a fresh perspective translates in the brand’s current global popularity. Bielby says, “The brand is buzz worthy. It’s contemporary. It’s not out there but it’s engaging.” His subtle re-invention of the brand’s aesthetic using familiar American symbols reflects a level of creativity that demands an audience to look under the layers of what is known, to discover what is truly there. It’s not traditionally sexy: it’s intellectually provocative.
So what is Raf seeing? What is Modern America?
Based on Raf’s interpretation, one can gather it’s diverse. It’s cultured. It’s inclusive. It’s dynamic. It’s politically charged and politically changing.
But if a brand is claiming inspiration from a nation with such a politically controversial atmosphere, to what extent must that brand be political? Anticipating this, Calvin Klein ran an experiment by asking young people across the world to describe America without discussing politics. The overarching theme to these answers? Freedom. “There’s a lot of good in this country,” Bielby says, regarding the results of the experiment. “You come here and you try to be everything you dream you can be. There’s a lot of good we can’t forget.”
It’s evident through Calvin Klein’s most recent campaigns that Simons has meditated on this freedom, producing dreamily creative yet reflective and sophisticated collections. “Based on Raf’s last two shows, my suspicion is they’re going to wrap their arms around their authenticity and heritage and be the best American brand they can be,” Bielby says of Calvin Klein’s future endeavors. “Continuity is being progressive. In terms of politics, I don’t think it’s really any brand’s job to be political. It’s about what’s best for the human angle…. It’s about rising above politics and looking at humanity. It’s about the continuity.” And if there’s any brand that’s continuously human, it’s Calvin Klein, which is what makes the brand so revolutionary—so intriguing.
The brand thus represents the modern day American: it’s conceptually provocative, yet it’s culturally intuitive. It’s relatable yet it’s cheekily rebellious. But overall, it desires. It desires change and more so, a voice. Raf Simons’ Calvin Klein is the start of a quiet revolution in the sense that it’s not new but instead, continuously evolving. And it’s this evolution that is not only so hopeful for the worlds of fashion and politics but hopeful the world of the Modern America’s Modern Youth.
Lesley Bielby is an independent consultant on retainer with Calvin Klein, expressing her own thoughts. This is not a formal point of view from Calvin Klein.
ST.ART Magazine does not own the rights to any of the images used in this article.