The Raf Simons guide to transforming a brand

Following a buzzy New York Fashion Week debut, Raf Simons is continuing to ride the wave of success he’s been on since taking over the helm of Calvin Klein.

Over the course of just a few months, Simons has managed to breathe life into a stale brand, which was suffering from a lack of cohesive vision over a fractured portfolio of companies. Simons, the former creative director at Dior, has wasted no time in using his fashion prowess to help transform Calvin Klein and put the company back on the industry’s radar. In some regards, Simons pulled an Alessandro Michele, who radically transformed Gucci upon being named creative director in 2015 (though Michele’s unique aesthetic and leadership style are decidedly one-of-a-kind).

Here’s a rundown of the biggest moves Simons has made.

Changed the logo
A brand’s logo is its most overtly visible asset, so Simons decided to make a statement by giving Calvin Klein’s his own spin. With the help of graphic designer Peter Saville, Simons replaced the brand’s traditional logo font with all-capital letters in san serif. The brand announced the logo change on Instagram, along with a caption: “A return to the spirit of the original. An acknowledgement of the founder and foundations of the fashion house.”

The move mirrors similar efforts by the Diane Von Furstenberg camp, which altered the brand’s logo by trading the traditional “DVF” initials in favor of a logo featuring the brand’s full name, a strategic decision by its newly appointed creative director Jonathan Saunders.

Tested the fashion week waters
Simons took a cue from the ever-changing fashion calendar — as well as peers like Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta — to streamline his show to feature both men’s and women’s looks, announcing in November that he would show both collections on the runway.

Simons’ much-anticipated collection did not fail to impress. Titled “Parade,” the runway served as an ode to Americana, featuring bright, bold uniforms and classic denim, set to the backdrop of “The Virgin Suicides” soundtrack and “This Is Not America” by David Bowie. As a result, Calvin Klein was the most talked about brand on social media, garnering 23 percent of all fashion week–related mentions, according to Brandwatch data on February 15.

“He’s approached Calvin Klein with a very respectful manner,” said Rony Zeidan, CEO of luxury agency RO NY. “He looked at the brand and went back to his origins, and designed respectively. He’s done it in a way that’s very Calvin, but also has the Raf touch to it.”

Leaned on partnerships
For his red carpet debut, Simons designed custom Oscar looks for members of the cast of “Moonlight.” It was particularly serendipitous, since “Moonlight” won the Oscar for best picture, after a slight snafu that led Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty to announce “La La Land” as the initial winner.

“It’s a movie that’s a bit understated and very thoughtful. It’s very strong and very real, and it discusses a subject that’s taboo, but it’s done in a very cinematographic way. It is also a borderline-art movie, an independent movie,” Zeidan said. “The fact that Raf went against the grain — and didn’t choose “La La Land,” a big blockbuster — speaks to the testament of what true art is, what true creativity is.”

The Oscars experience was followed by an announcement on Monday that the “Moonlight” crew will continue to rep the brand in its latest underwear campaign, a departure from the brand’s days of backing ads featuring a scantily clad Justin Bieber.

Embraced transparency
When Calvin Klein announced that Simons would take over the creative direction of the brand, it decided to be as transparent as possible, sharing the appointment (and the impetus behind it) on Instagram. This was essentially the opposite of brands like Yves Saint Laurent and Abercrombie and Fitch, which completely deleted their prior internet histories to usher in a new era of leadership. 

“Everything is very thought out and methodical,” Zeidan said. “He has a way of thinking that is very different and fresh from what’s happening out there in fashion, where everyone is throwing a million things at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

Get news and analysis about fashion, beauty and culture delivered to your inbox every morning.