GQ

Welcome to the New Golden Age of Fashion Advertising

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What’s a fashion essential? The trench coat? The chelsea boot? Jordans? The hoodie?

That’s all too complicated. To Heron Preston, the maverick who got his start DJing with Virgil Abloh’s Been Trill collective before upshifting to his own pristinely cut workwear? It’s underwear!

That’s what Preston zeroed in on for his new collection for Calvin Klein, made up of nearly 100 garments inspired by the brand’s archives—“celebrating the iconic pieces of Calvin Klein,” as Preston put it in an interview earlier this week. Underwear was the apotheosis of Klein’s mission to obsessively distill clothing to its most elemental form. But he didn’t “elevate” underwear through material, with fancy fabrics or high design—he championed undies conceptually, with the iconic images he made to sell it. Preston found the place where his work meets Klein’s. “What we started to discover is this idea of underwear as outerwear,” Preston said. “Conventionally or traditionally, you would wear the underwear next to your skin. We wanted to bring it out on top and use it as a layering piece.”

Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein

So many of his pieces go both under and over the underwear: carpenter and straight leg jeans, the perfect white T-shirt, a jean jacket, hoodies, sweatpants, and tank tops. There isn’t a gimmick in the lineup, which goes on sale today; the weirdest piece is a double-weight hoodie inspired by meaty workwear fabrics. It’s all unisex, and priced below $300. Even for our minimalism-obsessed world, its simplicity is almost disarming.

The clothes are but one part of a much more ambitious strategy. Preston is not the new designer at Calvin Klein—the brand recently hired the much-admired young New York designer Willy Chavarria to oversee its menswear, reporting to global head of design Jessica Lomax. (Shortly after our interview, LVMH announced it was parting ways with Berluti designer Kris Van Assche, and HF Twitter began speculating that it might appoint Preston to complete the Virgil Abloh-Matthew Williams Been Trill trifecta. That would be very Marvel Studios of them, but a new designer doesn’t seem in the cards for the house, and Preston seems like a quintessential consultant.) Nor is it an attempt to replicate the suburban subversion project it briefly undertook with Raf Simon. Instead, the brand is doing a delicate dance: of building on the nostalgia for the eponymous designer’s vision without merely exploiting it.

Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein

It is the first project from Jacob Jordan, an Apple and Thom Browne and Vuitton alum who joined the brand full-time in March of 2020 as global chief merchant and product strategist. When asked about the connection between the Preston project and his own role, Jordan said that the heritage of the brand “is still so important. And not just to us as a brand, but we feel like it’s still really important to the consumer. So how do we take that DNA and reimagine it? In the past, Calvin Klein was so associated with sensuality and the spirit of youth and like all of those things. So what does that mean now?”

Accordingly, rather than the clothes, the keystone of the project is a monumental campaign featuring a vibey video, and images by Renell Medrano. Like the brand’s original, much-lauded iconography, featuring Kate Moss and Marky Mark in their underwear, it is meticulously and almost mindblowingly casted, with Lil Uzi Vert freestyling, Nas peeling an orange, Kaia Gerber sitting in the bathroom in her underwear, plus others like GQ contributor Joe Holder, Preston himself, and skater Stevie Williams. Oh, and celebrity model Ashley Graham! It has that ranch house, shag carpet vibe, but with none of the creepy-perviness of Bruce Weber’s famous photos. (For that vibe, see ERL.) Simons did a bit of this too—remember when he put the Kardashians in the barn? But that was, well, a little too intellectual to be true CK. The genius of Calvin Klein advertisements was their utter, direct simplicity. Preston’s clothing is tailor-made to support the creation of this imagery. It’s clothing for an epic campaign.

Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein
Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein

Maybe we’re entering a new golden age of fashion advertising. Brands seem bullish about the possibilities of image. Last weekend, Balenciaga released a pre-fall collection with video that featured none of their clothing but instead a series of clips scientifically proven to make the viewer feel happy. It was totally, powerfully demented, toying with the global, sinister, vague vocabulary employed by nearly every tech company these days. More optimistic was the first campaign released by the Los Angeles brand Rhude, starring Future in the brand’s spiffy streetwear. Rhude has a billboard in LA, but otherwise they don’t have distribution plans for the images, which are something between a magazine editorial and a lookbook. The Future photo is an ad for ad’s sake.

Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein
Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein

In a way, Calvin Klein was the first brand for which the clothes were the least important part. This is increasingly the industry standard. Preston described going into the archives and finding not simply clothing but a chair, perfumes, a whole room of campaign imagery, and letters from fans to Calvin. “It was like a museum,” he said. And in that light, he has created the perfect sort of capsule collection for our moment: some highly sophisticated museum merch.

Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein
Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein
Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein
Courtesy of Renell Medrano for Heron Preston and Calvin Klein

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