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Calvin Klein creative director tells why it was time to revamp the brand

Calvin Klein creative director tells Jing Zhang about the brand's reboot and why it has raised eyebrows

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 10:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 10:18am

Among those of a certain generation, there was a collective gasp when they heard that CK Calvin Klein was rebranding. Why would anyone want to mess with a history of iconic images, including those featuring a semi-nude Kate Moss and the more recent stunning shots of Lara Stone?

That big "Why?" was what the well-heeled crowd was keen on having answered as they recently filed into Hong Kong's Shaw Studios. Guests from around Asia, including the likes of supermodel Du Juan, eagerly anticipated the debut of the Calvin Klein Platinum line - formerly CK Calvin Klein.

The old grey label of CK just felt dated. And obviously, a lot has changed in fashion, too.
Kevin Carrigan, Creative Director.

Branding was always one of the label's major strengths. This is a brand that had teenagers pasting ads across bedroom walls, and which took grunge androgyny mainstream in the 1990s, spawning copycat styles to this day. But times have changed.

"The old grey label of CK just felt dated," says Briton Kevin Carrigan, creative director of the fashion giant's rebranded designer diffusion label, and of CK Jeans.

"And obviously, a lot has changed in fashion, too. We decided to call it Calvin Klein Platinum, but still keep CK as the emblem - we are not moving away from the CK motif."

But the creative director releases that there is some assuring to do, especially to those for whom CK was part of their personal fashion histories.

"Over the past 18 months, we've just been elevating the products, the fabrics, the construction, the fit and the integrity of the brand," says the neat and distinguished-looking Carrigan. "We've started using a lot of imported Italian fabrics, a lot of Japanese fabrics - and I wanted to take the brand up; I wanted to elevate."

The brand has indeed changed since its cult-making heyday. For starters, operations have expanded massively. In Asia, Carrigan says, the label has grown to more than 200 stores in nine years. Quantities sold have also risen rapidly, lowering production costs and allowing Carrigan to indulge in higher qualities.

"There has always been a conscious effort to give the customer great designs at a great price for us. And the smaller number of stores you have, the harder it is to get production at a certain level or price. Now that we are in 200 stores, we can have elevated fabrics and give the consumer something like this cashmere at a good price, because of the larger quantities," he says, touching the alpaca cashmere sweater he has on.

The change is meant to update the brand "to be in tune with the next generation" without leaving old fans behind. Even though the CK motif will remain, store fronts and the labelling will change to a platinum colour from spring-summer 2014.

However, with this rebranding, signs indicate that prices will be going up slightly.

For the show, held on October 24, top models such as Liu Wen, Soo Joo Park, Yumi Lambert and Zhao Lei were flown in for the catwalk. The clothes reflected a cool minimalism with plenty of platinum colours to reflect the new name. Silhouettes were modern, easy and low-waisted, with materials like silk cotton reverse twill on androgynous lapel jackets. Bonded bomber jackets and fine jersey also made a play for basic separates on men and women, whereas short, young fitted suiting reigned for men. And for the ladies, it was pleated panel dresses and skirts, textured raffia. Sophisticated satin asymmetrical tank dresses during the finale nailed it.

Of course, minimalism is nothing new for Calvin Klein, or for Carrigan, who studied at the Royal College of Art in London.

"I've never liked art nouveau, and I don't like a lot of patterns and swirls … even before I worked at MaxMara and Nicole Farhi, and they are both houses that stood for the minimal and really dressing people."

With the new label, "I am going for minimalism for a new tribe. Some of the fabrics I'm using are quite new. I've been at Calvin for 15 years, so I wanted to show how you can play with these codes, and then mash them up again. It's like music, isn't it? With sampling and mashing and mixing."

This juxtaposed aesthetic for the Platinum label features a mixture of "very noble, pure Italian fabrics", combined with new technologies. Since the label has always concerned itself with what is new, fresh and modern, it's no wonder that they are also pushing the digital side, and the new way that young customers interact with fashion.

"I'm not just speaking to the fashion elite, I'm speaking to real people," he says.

It's clear Carrigan has an eye for spotting what's new in youth culture. That finger on the pulse has always been essential for CK maintaining its cool quotient.

"I'm always aware. I write a lot; I like words," he says, and these often become the starting point of his creative expression that ends in collections and campaigns. It was words like "digital re-coding" and also "touched by hand" that pepper his consciousness and speech when he discusses the relaunch.

Carrigan sees his role not only as a designer, but as "kind of being an anthropologist/architect/industrial designer" in how he is helping the label transition into this new chapter. And with social media and modern connectivity, "everyone will be part of it literally in one minute", he says.

"Back in the day, it was much more word of mouth - today it's instant."

The game has changed in more ways than one. The brand registered US$7.6 billion in global retail sales last year, with expected growth of between 8 per cent and 10 per cent by 2016, according to company figures online.

Then there's also the fact that the brand has gone from being privately owned to publicly owned. With the growing abundance of stores in Asia, as well as a rising global fan base, the message must not get lost in translation for the newly named Calvin Klein Platinum Label.

In short, it's a very good start - but now the pressure is on.

jing.zhang@scmp.com

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