Calvin Klein Collection range takes the brand into the world of luxe fashion
The Calvin Klein Collection, the lifestyle brand's premium line, has kicked off its Asian expansion with stores in Singapore and Hong Kong, says Jing Zhang
Things are changing in the world of Calvin Klein. Last year, CK Calvin Klein was renamed Calvin Klein Platinum, and saw a debut by global creative director Kevin Carrigan in Hong Kong.
Last week, the brand staged an international event in Singapore to herald its Asian expansion, flying in film stars Zhang Ziyi and Louis Koo Tin-lok, along with the creative directors of the brand's various lines, to celebrate the move.
It signalled the international roll-out of Calvin Klein Collection stores (the brand's high fashion label), beginning in Asia.
The launch of the premium line in Asia is perfect timing, Francisco Costa, the Brazil-born creative director of Calvin Klein Collection womenswear, says when we meet in Milan.
"I feel it's a very fresh start, and I feel that it's a very fresh market, too."
The company is opening four Collection stores in Southeast Asia this year, in partnership with licensee Club 21. The Singapore shop opened earlier this month, while the Hong Kong store, at Elements, opens today, with Malaysia to follow in July, and Bangkok in the autumn.
All shops feature a new concept design with a sleek marble and glass storefront.
The Collection stores showcase designs by Costa and Collection's menswear designer Italo Zucchelli, with prices set at a higher point than other Calvin Klein ranges.
"This line is very sophisticated, so it speaks to that clientele," Costa says. "Calvin Klein as a whole is such an important brand in fashion, it has vibrancy and youth. It's a lifestyle brand: we sell underwear, but we also do something like Collection. That's the magic of it. It's ageless and genderless in a way, as it appeals to so many types of people."
In Asia, Calvin Klein is still mainly known for jeans and underwear. "That is the reality," Costa admits. "But the brand is much more than that." A new strategy was adopted for Collection's entry into Asia because the range is "a complicated world", and required a different approach to the brand's more accesible lines, he says.
Costa is hoping to attract a wider range of customers with the more diverse, aspirational, high-fashion attitude of his Collection range. He hopes that these stores will help to elevate the entire brand, and give Calvin Klein more legitimacy with the high fashion crowd.
With China fast becoming the world's biggest luxury market, this retail shift makes sound commercial sense. Costa thinks that his global vision for the label will appeal since "women in Asia are getting more sophisticated".
Costa says that the Collection line represents "something that is really special; it's about individuality".
The austere, architectural aesthetic follows the minimalist style typical of Calvin Klein, but has a stronger focus on the materials, innovation and experimental design.
"I would like to think every piece lasts a long time. I'd like to think that the way a woman buys a piece of Collection is the way that someone would buy a car," says Costa, who has been in charge of the line for a decade. "It's something that you treasure and love and feel good about. It's not fast [fashion]; it's to be enjoyed and appreciated over time. That's the vision that I stand behind," he says.
The luxe Collection range might find fans in Asia's experimental fashion scene, where clients are more daring than in Europe. Costa sees his Asian clientele as extremely diverse: "In Hong Kong you get one sensibility, in Seoul another, and in China a completely different look."
He cites founder Klein's vision as central to the entire brand. "His design is very architectural, clean, and minimal, but it is also very provocative. I think my clothes became more provocative because of it," Costa says.
"Perhaps there is more of a European sensibility that comes from me. There are the wardrobe staples and also an element of fantasy in the clothes that I take great pride in.
"You don't want to just buy 'stuff' at this price point," he says. "It has to be special. It's like a fetish."
The autumn-winter 2014 Collection womenswear line that showed in Singapore looks surprisingly low key at first glance. It starts off in graphic black and white, with long coats thrown over chic midi skirts and dresses, before into knitwear. Fair Isle influences abound in warm earthy colours, and there are plenty of layers and wonderful homespun textures.
Its flat, grungy lace-up boots reminiscent of Dr Martens were a big surprise. But they were right on trend, with functional flat shoes dominating high fashion, as in Chanel's couture trainers and Celine's slip-ons.
"It's the idea of having something that is very functional. It just felt right: very chic, cool clothes but with these boots," Costa says.
"It's very modern. The clothes have a certain cool attitude, too, almost a sense of dishevelled-ness and a little worn [in the textures]. It speaks of the street."
The line is not a big departure from the original 1990s heyday which featured the classic Calvin Klein imagery of hipper-than-thou androgyny and clean lines. "I always think of Calvin in the 1990s, in the Kate Moss era."
Costa took diverse inspirations for this collection, including "a fantastic exhibition on [artist] Mike Kelley in New York about childhood memories". But the designer insists that he never gets too literal with the end product.
He also focused on the idea of knitwear and the Fair Isle tradition, working with mills and traditional craft houses in Scotland for specific yarn dyes and the development of fabrics and patterns.
The focus on quality craft is something that Costa hopes will make the new premium lines stand out.
"I look at it as emphasising the values that people in Scotland, who still have expertise with the yarns, possess. It's beautiful," he says.
"I love the clash of cultures. There are so many beautiful things around the world to work with, and that becomes the 'luxury' aspect. You're not going to find this on the high street. That is the value of Collection."