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Raf Simons and Calvin Klein part ways

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Raf Simons, the Belgian designer who won three awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in only two years, is leaving just over six months before his contract is up for renewal.

New York

THE most high-profile brand reinvention experiment in 21st-century American fashion came to a crashing halt on Friday when Calvin Klein announced it was parting ways with its chief creative officer, Raf Simons, "after Calvin Klein, Inc decided on a new brand direction which differs from Simons' creative vision".

The departure of the Belgian designer, who won three awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in only two years, comes just over six months before his contract was due for renewal, and is effective immediately. There will be no Calvin Klein show during the upcoming New York Fashion Week, and there was no time frame given for when a successor would be named.

"It's very sad, and unfortunate," said Ken Downing, fashion director for Neiman Marcus. It "began as a brilliant fashion moment with great promise. Raf Simons at Calvin Klein brought great excitement to the New York fashion scene and New York Fashion Week."

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The decision casts a shadow not only on the Calvin Klein business, but also on the growing belief in the fashion world that for a brand to be successful, it must hand all power over to a single creative who is empowered to impose his or her vision throughout.

Both Calvin Klein and Simons declined to elaborate further on the decision, though the relationship had been publicly troubled since November, when Emanuel Chirico, chief executive of PVH, the corporation that owns Calvin Klein, effectively blamed Simons for a decline in Calvin Klein sales, calling his work a "fashion miss". Even though he did not use the designer's name, it was an unprecedented public slap-down for a designer still at a house.

PVH said earnings before interest and taxes fell to US$121 million compared to US$142 million the year before, a decrease it blamed primarily on a US$10 million increase in "creative and marketing" costs, which is to say: Simons spent too much on his ideas.

It was a noticeable contrast to the enthusiasm that greeted the announcement in August 2016 that Simons was coming to Calvin Klein, which had the brand declaring its ambitions to grow revenue from US$8 billion to US$10 billion.

What went wrong between then and now will be the subject of study for branding experts and fashion executives for years to come.

A favourite of the fashion world, known for his low-key personal style, affinity for the contemporary art world, and talent, Simons originally made his name with an eponymous menswear line, but achieved broader fame thanks to his ability to breathe new life into troubled brands.

He took on Jil Sander after the brand's founder had come and gone twice, later moving on to Christian Dior following the ouster of John Galliano. He left Dior in 2015 after three years, frustrated that his creative oversight was limited to the women's runway collections.

In handing the keys to the Klein kingdom to Simons, Steve Shiffman, chief executive of the brand, was following the model popularised by Gucci. The wholesale reinvention of Gucci under Alessandro Michele, the creative director has been the biggest success story of the current fashion industry.

Also influential has been Hedi Slimane, a designer and former creative director for Yves Saint Laurent and current creative chief of Celine. But unlike Gucci, where Michele arrived as an unknown, the expectations for Simons were high. The bet was enormous and, in retrospect, it seems the expectations were unrealistic for both parties. NYTIMES