Calvin Klein Names a New Designer and Plans a Runway Return

Calvin Klein, a brand that recently made waves with an ad campaign featuring the actor Jeremy Allen White in nothing but his underwear, is getting a little more buttoned up. On Thursday, it announced it would restart its high-end Collection business under a new creative director, Veronica Leoni, along with a return to the runway — and, perhaps, to its former position as a tentpole of New York Fashion Week.

Ms. Leoni will be the first named designer Calvin Klein has had in five years and the first woman to lead the house. She is one of the few women to be appointed to the top of the creative side of a major brand in the last year, when most of the big jobs have been given to white men.

Her appointment reflects the fact that jeans and influencers may not, actually, be enough to sustain a global name even in the era of social media — that an actual design point of view may be necessary.

It is also a sign of the current upheaval in the fashion world, which has had a rash of designer appointments and reshuffling at brands like Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Moschino as the luxury business is increasingly challenged by the macro political and economic environment. Calvin Klein reported 2023 revenues of $3.9 billion, a growth of only 3 percent.

“We see this as an exciting opportunity to celebrate Calvin Klein’s return to its full expression as a fashion brand,” said Eva Serrano, the global brand president of Calvin Klein. “The market and the industry have changed, and the consumer is more eclectic. We wanted to respond to this cultural shift in a modern way.”

At Calvin Klein, Ms. Leoni, 41 and Italian, will be responsible for men’s and women’s apparel, underwear and accessories, and her top-line collection will inform the broader business and its presence on the red carpet, where aside from dressing Brittney Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner, for the 2023 Met Gala, it has been largely absent. Just as it has been absent from the New York Fashion Week runway since 2018, when the last creative director, Raf Simons, was abruptly fired after less than two years.

Hired to jump-start Calvin, which had never regained the aesthetic influence it had under its founder after its sale to PVH in 2002, Mr. Simons infused the brand with an urgent, dystopian view of Americana that enthralled the fashion world but shocked the consumer base — and sent the Calvin management team into a long period of retrenchment.

Though largely unknown outside the fashion world, Ms. Leoni brings to Calvin a sensibility of twisted romantic minimalism born of stints at Jil Sander, Celine under Phoebe Philo and the Row. In 2020 she started her own label, Quira, which was named for her grandmother and made her a finalist for the 2023 LVMH prize, the most lucrative young designer prize in fashion. It also made her a name often whispered when a job opening arose.

Her most recent collection, shown during Paris Fashion Week in March, featured a cast of different characters in carefully calibrated oversize tailoring punctuated with the occasional draped chiffon gown. Ms. Leoni will continue to design Quira and will split her time between Rome and New York.

“For decades, Calvin Klein interpreted the bold idea of self-expression,” Ms. Leoni said in a statement. “I am willing to empower it.”

What exactly that means will be unveiled when her first collection, for fall 2025, is shown early next year. It will be one of the most anticipated debuts of New York Fashion Week, which has lost many of its once storied brands, leaving it ripe for a defining new figure. (Ralph Lauren now shows mostly off schedule; Oscar de la Renta no longer shows at all. Thom Browne splits his time between New York and Paris; and Donna Karan has been sold off and reinvented as a contemporary line.)

Ms. Leoni’s appointment is not the end of the designer reshuffle. In Paris, the top job at Givenchy remains open, and rumors are very strong that Hedi Slimane is planning to leave his post at Celine. The game of fashion musical chairs, which in part determines what we all want to wear next, which in turn crystallizes a decade, is just heating up.

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