Taking the CK brand beyond the West



As the creative director of Calvin Klein, Kevin Carrigan hosted a remarkable installation event over the weekend to showcase products from the company’s spring 2008 lines, which is scheduled to debut at Debenhams in the UAE next month. Emirates Business met up with the Brit ahead of the event.


This is your first time in Dubai. What do you make of the city?


I have heard that it is a great shopping and tourist destination, but what I am really interested in looking at is all the architecture. So rather than go to the gold souks and whatnot, I am going to go out on a little architectural tour.


How did you get into fashion?


The passion started from my grandmother, who was a seamstress and a tailor, and I was really interested in design whether it was clothing, art or graphics. I knew I always wanted to be in design.

So I moved down to London where I attended the Royal College and because the college was so industrial you got to interact with a lot of designers and artists.

St Martins [a rival college] was very flamboyant – the Gallianos of the world – which was not really me. I am more of an industrial designer, so the philosophy of the Royal College has always been my philosophy.


Is it true that Calvin Klein himself headhunted you?


Yes, Calvin is very much like that – that is one thing about him, he personally does his research. It all happened through a journalist at English Vogue called Kate Feelan. Calvin called her asking if she could recommend a design director and that is when my name came up. He flew me out for the day to New York and 11 years later I am still here.


Tell me more about the Dubai event.


Even though our major fashion shows are held in New York and Milan, it is really important to promote regionally. We are quite well known for our link between showing clothes in an interesting environment and in a thought-provoking way.

With Dubai, we have built these Perspex boxes in which we are putting the models in to reflect the clothes in light. The clothes are about colour transparency and reflection.


How important is it to design for celebrities?


Designers and movie stars have always been joined at the hip but now thanks to the celebrity culture we are obsessed with, it seems to have immensely amped up the factor.

It has become so much bigger than Grace Kelly in the 1950s or Mick Jagger in the 1960s. We generally work with celebrities who are already our customers, such as Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1990s and now Kate Bosworth.


What about the red carpet? Do fashion houses like that association?


Yes, but not everyone wants to work with us and vice versa. Usually, the celebrity is an extension of us because they already shop at CK.


What is the key to marketing CK?


Being provoking and creative is what I believe in. That way, you definitely get talked about.


Do you cater for all body types?


People have this perception of us that we only dress a certain body type but that is so not true. I have been at CK for more than 10 years and we cater for different body shapes, skin tones and complexions. We have plus sizes, petite sizes, plus we are introducing a new range of C-cup and D-cup bras modelled by Eva Mendes. We definitely celebrate diversity.


How do you identify a trend?


Part of it is instinct – that is my job as a designer. Other times it is going to fabric fairs and looking at the fabric and touching it. I look at the emotion of the fabric; if I want something tough then I use patent leather. If there is a romantic wave going on, then I will go into chiffon and silks. Different materials give different emotions, which dictate the trend.


In what direction have you taken the brand since you joined?


I am obsessed with technical fabrics and natural fabrics and I like contrasting them together. This season’s spring/summer I used 100 per cent silk but I wove it with cellophane so that it reflects in light. My philosophy is based on industrial fashion and neutral things – I’m not a flamboyant designer. Consistency of a message and identity is vital.


How much does licensing need to be controlled?


What is important is that when you license with somebody, you choose someone who is an expert. Licensing needs control; we bring the design knowledge and they bring you that expertise they are known for.


What about fake products?


They have a big impact financially, but quality is really important and these counterfeit goods do not have quality or the longevity. Some people call it a form of flattery but it ruins our business.


Finally, what is the key to being a good designer?


Instinct, understanding your craft and consistency. Knowing who you are and who to design for is important.



PROFILE: Kevin Carrigan, Creative Director, Calvin Klein


With a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication and a Masters of Art degree in Fashion Design from The Royal College of Art and Design in London, Carrigan, 43, is well qualified for his job.

As the Creative Director of Calvin Klein, he is responsible for setting the direction of the global design aesthetic for the brand’s male and female sportswear businesses as well as wholesale and retail lines, produced by licensing partners. 


Carrigan, who lives in New York, also oversees the design direction of additional licensed product categories, including jeans, coats, dresses, socks and hosiery, handkerchiefs, ties and umbrellas.