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Can Creativity and Commerce Ever Be Reconciled? Raf Simons at Calvin Klein

Published 15 Jul 2020
Reference 6582
Industry Retail
Region North America
Summary

The case study explores a conundrum at the heart of the fashion industry: how far is individual creativity compatible with corporate commercial imperatives? It follows the career of designer Raf Simons, who, after a stellar performance at Christian Dior struggled to achieve similar status at Calvin Klein. When they appointed him “chief creative officer” in 2016, the parent company clearly underestimated the roadblocks and how long it would take to transform the brand, which had become over-dependent on licensing deals and lacked stylistic coherence. He had no qualms ditching the brand’s classic codes, oblivious to the fact that it put him at odds with the parent company. Calvin Klein clung to a past that glorified the human body; Simons sought to create a less body-centric, more gender-fluid image. But to change a brand requires patience and funding. While the Belgian designer assumed he had infinite resources and time, by 2018 the board had run out of both. His foray into mainstream American fashion left many unanswered questions that are addressed by the case.

Teaching objectives

The case discusses the tension and trade-off between individual creativity and business imperatives in the culture market, and underline the importance of culture in a career transition. One of the biggest challenges facing newly hired leaders is to design and implement a long-term plan that will sustain their career in the long term. This means going beyond day-to-day activities to consider a range of strategic questions that will satisfy the expectations of the organization, and creating a transparent system of rules and procedures so that changes are communicated well in advance to all stakeholders.

Keywords
  • Raf Simons
  • Executive alignment
  • Organizational design
  • Fashion management
  • Luxury
  • Creativity
  • Career management
  • Calvin Klein
  • Christian Dior
  • Leadership
  • Re-invention strategy
  • France
  • United States
  • Creative industries
  • Q32020