When it comes to Calvin Klein, “American Classics” — the name of the brand’s new spring campaign — probably brings to mind risque images of a 15-year-old Brooke Shields (“Nothing comes between me and my Calvins”), waify Kate Moss and, most recently, Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner, wearing Calvin Klein’s branded elastic-waistband briefs, and not a whole lot else.
However, for his first campaign since becoming chief creative officer of the fashion house, Raf Simons is giving the brand’s “all American” aesthetic a new meaning.
Gone are the days of oiled-up Insta-famous hot young thangs (lookin’ at you, Cameron Dallas) and explicit sexting messages. Instead, Simons and creative director Pieter Mulier took a much more sophisticated and thoughtful approach to investigating American pop culture and the brand’s role within it.
Pieter Mulier, Creative Director, Calvin Klein, says: “Looks were specifically chosen from the Calvin Klein archive for the campaign; it’s both a recognition of design firsts and the photographic history of the brand that made these garments famous.” @thewarholmuseum @kdhwillems @jonasgloeer Andy Warhol: Elvis 11 Times (Studio Type), 1963 © The Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS. Calvin Klein: Classic Cotton Briefs (Calvin Klein Underwear Est. 1981) and Classic Denim Jeans (Archival Originals, 1980) with Classic Cotton Tank. Photographed at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.
Photographed by Willy Vanderperre at both the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, the spring campaign images see half-clothed models standing before works by Warhol, Richard Prince, Dan Flavin and Sterling Ruby wearing iconic pieces from the Calvin Klein archives. “It’s both a recognition of design firsts and the photographic history of the brand that made these garments famous,” said Mulier of choosing classic looks.
Against the stark white walls and concrete floors of the museum setting, the semi-nude models are themselves art — images to be admired from afar for their beauty rather than as living, breathing, sexualized beings. With the exception of one image, the models are disengaged with the camera. Their (relatively) unknown faces stand in contrast to the brand’s 2016 campaign, which starred more than 20 famous influencers, promoting the idea, perhaps, that we are all our own personal brands and celebrities.
The clothes, the models and the artworks are equal as subjects in the composition, creating a compelling statement about fashion — and Calvin Klein — in the context of pop culture history. “Whether a Warhol artwork or the first designer jeans, each is celebrated as an American classic,” reads the copy for the campaign.
Here the clothes strike up a conversation with the art, much the way designers and artists in the Pop Art heyday would have. @thewarholmuseum @tylerbluegolden Andy Warhol: Skull, 1976 © The Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS. Calvin Klein: Classic Denim Jeans (Archival Originals, 1982) with Classic Cotton Tank (Calvin Klein Underwear Est. 1981). Photographed at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.
Adds Simons, “It’s a celebration of Calvin Klein’s iconic underwear and jeans; acknowledging their status as Pop and showing them in the world of art.”
While yes, yes, that’s nice and all, when looking at these new images we can’t help but wonder: Did Simons just alienate millions of Beliebers and Kardashian/Jenner worshippers with a too-sophisticated, intellectual message in an effort to sell the most democratic of garments, underwear and jeans? Is the high-brow message more appropriate to the work he was doing at European luxury label Dior, where he collaborated with modern artists on a regular basis? Will his reputation as an avant-garde industry genius be enough to compete with the flashy, celeb-y and, most importantly, sexy messages that prey upon hungry targets with almost subliminal-like effects? Time will tell.
To be fair, the new Calvin Klein isn’t entirely celebrity-free. Simons cast Stranger Things star Millie Bobbie Brown as one of several faces in a campaign for his new Calvin Klein By Appointment made-to-order collection released late last month.
One thing’s for sure, Calvin Klein is undergoing a massive transformation thanks to Simons’ touch. Just last week, the American fashion house unveiled a new, more streamlined and simplified logo, and a quick sweep through its social media feeds shows a more high fashion approach to its marketing — one that’s also far less likely to cause controversy over sexual exploitation or sexism.
— Calvin Klein (@CalvinKlein) February 7, 2017
Introducing the Calvin Klein Campaign: American Classics. Photographed by Willy Vanderperre, Styled by Olivier Rizzo. @richardprince1234 @rubellcollection @iamlulu_nyc Richard Prince: I Changed My Name, 1988 © Richard Prince Acrylic and screen print on canvas (142.5 cm x 198.7 cm). Calvin Klein: Classic Denim Shirt (Calvin Klein Jeans Est. 1978). Photographed at Rubell Family Collection, Miami.
This article was originally published on The Hollywood Reporter