Calvin Klein

Kevin Carrigan Transcending Denim

Text by Caroline Issa

Photography by Jonas Lindstroem

Styling by Bobby Hook

When Forrest Gump strolls into a men’s locker room in the 1994 movie, he instantly assumes everyone there is called Calvin, from the name emblazoned on their briefs. For Kevin Carrigan, designer of Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Underwear and Platinum, the joke is a reality: “Normally when you introduce yourself, the question is, ‘What do you do?’ And I say, ‘I work at Calvin Klein; do you wear my underwear?’” Of course, the answer is always yes.

When we meet at Calvin Klein’s New York headquarters Carrigan is full of energy despite having just arrived from Brazil. A funny and energetic Englishman, he moved to New York after graduating from the Royal Academy of Art and is now a consummate New Yorker, as well as an innovative part of the fabric of Calvin Klein, the label he joined in 1998. Since then he has come to shape the brand’s development while staying true to the core of what Calvin Klein himself created in his 30-year career.

Working for such an iconic label entails a particular approach that respects the archive without slavishly copying it, and requires an understanding of the brand but mixed with a freedom to think beyond it. “You know how I start my collections?” asks Carrigan, “I write. Which is not like a lot of other designers. I don’t go on a trip and immediately decide to do a safari collection. No. It’s literally words taken from newspapers, magazines and friends, which I try to really bring together into a succinct, thorough process that then starts the season. From there I choose fabrics, then sketch the two-dimensional images to get the three-dimensional form.”

The genius of Calvin Klein underwear and jeans has been to bring luxury – and a healthy dose of sensuality – to simple, everyday staples. Carrigan manages to invest the simplest of items – like the famous jeans – with a sense of indulgence, while remaining within the label’s codes of minimalism. “I might be designing underwear, denim, ready-to-wear, but really I am designing the part of the line that affects how men and women live their lives,” says Carrigan. “We’re all really busy, we’ve all got jobs to go to and this idea of dressing with practicality and functionality for yourself, for your comfort and your real everyday life is important. That’s what architects think about when they build buildings; it’s the way industrial designers think. It’s about how we can make things better, and design-wise enhance your life.”

The explosion of denim on the catwalks has resonated with Carrigan’s approach to the day-to-day realities of Calvin Klein’s customers. A mood of streetwear permeates the SS15 Calvin Klein Jeans collection. Jeans are slung low on the hips, worn loose and relaxed. Carrigan’s denim has been broken in and bleached out. A powdery peach jacket and 1990s Calvin Klein logo, across sweatshirts and tees, appears sun-bleached. Then there are the concealed seams and deliberately unfussy stitching that reveals an awareness of the importance of reality and paired-back minimalism. “Calvin was always about that,” the designer says. “So when he introduced a pair of jeans on Brooke Shields, they were clean, pared-down, sexy jeans. Then when he introduced Kate Moss, she was very natural. She wasn’t heavily made up – she was less theatrical, and more real. There’s always been this sense with this brand and that’s very me, too.”

For Carrigan, this sense of simplicity and reality in life matches a deeper trend in contemporary dressing. “I am really interested in understanding the shifts and changes in culture of how we want to be seen and live and dress,” he says. “The whole thing about comfort, ease, speed, this acceleration of cycles. While there is a democratisation of fashion happening, there’s also a gender blurring – which I think is really important.”

Calvin Klein’s enduring relevance, born of the original designer’s death-defying reinventions, always made the label something of a phenomenon in the world of fashion. It’s something not lost on Carrigan: “I think about what’s happening in the world and what’s the relevance factor of what I’m doing. That’s what made Calvin amazing at staying relevant in the 1980s when he launched CK Jeans with Brooke Shields, and in the 1990s with Kate Moss. He was always changing the face of beauty. Looking at what was happening around him and saying, ‘Hang on a minute, I want this new change of beauty.’ And today that new face of beauty is offered by Lara Stone.”

Last year Stone became the face of Calvin Klein’s latest marketing foray. The label launched an Instagram hashtag: #mycalvins, inviting its consumers to post photos of themselves in their Calvins, and usually their ripped bodies, on the social-networking site. “It has literally been like a runaway train. It’s had a life of its own. It’s so provocative, the voyeurism. There are a lot of shots of faceless people too”. Carrigan laughs. For the designer, it’s all about going forward, transcending the form, “how do you make jeans absolutely exceptional? How do you transcend them? You use the best cotton, the most innovative techniques, the best innovation in materials and the best research.  One of the phrases I’ve been playing with is ‘transcending the norm’. How you push a simple pair of jeans and make them exceptional.”

Hair: Takuya Uchiyama using Bumble and bumble and Bed Head by TIGI
Make-up: Emily Mergaert using Tom Ford Beauty
Videography: Martin Senyszak
Set design: George Lewin
Photography assistant: Kareem Abdu
Styling assistant: Molly Knot
Hair assistant: Marine Tagawa
Set design assistant: Bryony Edwards
Models: Zen at IMG London and Duncan Pyke at Premier Model Management
Thanks to Jelica at Apiary Studios

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