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Costa and Zucchelli Out at Calvin Klein, Raf Simons to Take Reins?

The move is part of a new global creative strategy, unifying all Calvin Klein brands under one creative vision, and paves the way for Raf Simons to take the reins, an appointment that has been widely rumoured for several months.
Francisco Costa (L) and Italo Zucchelli (R) | Source: Getty Images
By
  • Lauren Sherman

NEW YORK, United States — After months of speculation, Calvin Klein Collection creative directors Francisco Costa and Italo Zucchelli are leaving the company as part of a new global creative strategy unifying all Calvin Klein brands under one creative vision.

“This creative strategy marks the beginning of another significant chapter in Calvin Klein’s brand legacy since Mr. Klein’s retirement,” chief executive Steve Shiffman said in a statement. “I would like to thank Francisco and Italo for their unwavering commitment to the Calvin Klein brand and their accomplishments over the past decade. They have both contributed immensely to making Calvin Klein a global leader in the fashion industry, and they have done so with dedication, focus and creativity.”

According to a statement released by the company, “A new brand direction will ultimately follow one creative vision across all categories of the business. An announcement will be made in due course.” Until then, the company’s in-house design teams will conceptualise, produce and present each line. There will be no runway show for Calvin Klein Collection in June (for men’s) or September (for women’s), although presentations will be held for press and sales. Until a new creative director is announced, the men's and women's design teams will will report to Michelle Kessler-Sanders, president of Calvin Klein Collection.

The move paves the way for Raf Simons — who left his role as creative director of Christian Dior women's in October 2015 — to take the creative reins at Calvin Klein, an appointment that has been widely rumoured for several months.

Costa, a former design assistant to Tom Ford at Gucci, joined Calvin Klein in 2001. He was appointed creative director of the women's collection in 2003 after Mr Calvin Klein, the company's founder and former designer, retired. Zucchelli, who worked in menswear at Jil Sander before joining Calvin Klein, was appointed creative director of menswear in 2004.

While both designers received a fair share of both positive and negative reviews from the fashion press during their decade-plus tenures, it’s unclear whether the company’s ready-to-wear collections — particular the women’s line — were successful financially.

"It's not a business that contributes to the bottom line and it probably never will be," Tom Murry, former president and chief executive of Calvin Klein, told BoF in 2011. "For us, it's a marketing expense and we generate an incredible amount of editorial that is based on being in that business. The PR department creates over $400 million a year in equivalent editorial, which is massive and which we believe has a very significant impact on our brand image globally," Murry continued. "It's a very small business, but a very important business. It's the only business we are in that doesn't lend itself to the licensing model. The reason for that primarily is that it requires a lot of investment to do it right and it's usually not a money maker, and if it is a money maker it's fairly minimal in terms of the return."

Murry retired in 2014 and was replaced by PVH veteran Shiffman, who subsequently hired in Kessler-Sanders in 2015 to run Calvin Klein's Collection business.

Calvin Klein was acquired in 2003 by PVH, then known as Phillips-Van Heusen, for $400 million in cash, as well as $30 million in stock and up to $300 million in royalties, according to a 2002 report by The New York Times. At the time, PVH was best known as the biggest shirtmaker in the United States. In 2015, Calvin Klein generated $8.2 billion in global retail sales, up 228 percent from $2.5 billion in 2003. North America currently accounts for 60 percent of the company’s sales, EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) makes up 19 percent. Latin America — including South America, the Caribbean and Central America — accounts for just 2 percent of sales. The company’s reported revenue in 2015 — which reflects markdowns, returns and other discounts on goods — was $2.9 billion, with a 14.9 percent operating margin on a non-GAAP basis.

Today, the conglomerate owns Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and a number of "heritage" brands including Izod and Van Heusen. In 2012, the company bought rival Warnaco Group, Inc., in a $2.8 billion deal in order to bring Calvin Klein jeans and underwear — which were then produced through a licensing deal with Warnaco — under one roof.

Those businesses — ck Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein — are currently under the purview of global director Kevin Carrigan, whose name was not mentioned in the statement about Costa and Zucchelli’s departure. However, the company has stated that the new brand direction will touch every category of the business, which indicates that Raf Simons, if he is indeed appointed, will have complete creative control, something he is said to have coveted at Christian Dior, where men’s fashion, store concepts and beauty were overseen by other designers. Beauty products manufacturer Coty owns the license for Calvin Klein fragrances.

At the same time, Simons has been a vocal critic of the current fashion system and the pressure it puts on designers throughout the creative process. "Everyone is paying attention to the wrong thing in my opinion. There's this huge debate about 'Oh my God, should we sell the garments the day after the show or three days after the show or should we tweet it in this way or Instagram it in that way?'… You know, all that kind of bullshit," he recently told London's Telegraph newspaper. "Will all that stuff still be relevant 30 years from now? I don't think so. What we should ask is will we have enough creative people who are strong enough and willing to do what is necessary right now to follow that madhouse. Lots of people are starting to question it."

It remains to be seen how Simons may approach a new creative directorship at another major conglomerate. From an aesthetic standpoint, the designer’s energetic take on minimalism might well be a better fit at Calvin Klein than it was at Dior. Simons, who continues to operate his namesake menswear line, will present his Spring/Summer 2017 menswear collection at Pitti Uomo in June. BoF will continue to update this story as it develops.

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