Fashion forward

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Calvin Klein Watches and Jewelry last month unveiled its SS15 collection which included the fashion brand’s first range of automatic watches. WatchPro took the opportunity to talk to brand president Laura Burdese, who explained the company’s direction and plans for the future.

“We are very much linked to the aesthetic of the Calvin Klein brand in general which is all about pure lines, minimal designs, sleek, simplicity.” Explains Burdese. “But of course we always try and reinterpret the strong DNA of the brand every season in a different way. So for the 2015 collection you see it is all about minimalism, pure and sleek, but reinterpreted in a more 3D, multi-layering, high tech inspiration.

“That’s the biggest challenge for us, because the DNA of the Calvin Klein brand is really strong and sometimes it’s too strong, I would say, for us it’s not easy to be different every season and come with new products and unique collections, keeping our roots very strong. I am very satisfied with this collection because I think we were really able to keep our core values but at the same time give something more to the customers, making the products more rich with details, surface treatments and multi-layering effects. There is a lot of construction behind [the watches]. I think this is what customers appreciate most in our collections because I think people nowadays, even if they only spend £150-£200, which means an affordable product, they want value for money. They want something different, something unique and this is what we try to offer them. ”

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The Calvin Klein Watches and Jewelry brand is a joint venture between Swatch Group and the fashion brand, with the watch group owning 90%. The two giants of their respective fields first came together in 1997.

“It’s a long love story, I would say. I think it was the first joint venture between the traditional watchmaking industry and the fashion brands at the time; Armani, I think, launched a little bit after us. So it’s working very well. We do everything in Switzerland, in terms of design, production, distribution, but of course we work very closely with the creative direction in New York because we are all umbrella brands [apparel, underwear, fragrances] so we have to be very consistent because for the end customer the brand is one, Calvin Klein.”

Last year Calvin Klein Watches and Jewelry took the decision to drop the CK moniker and release all products under the Calvin Klein name.

“That move, which really helped us in the market, was really also meant to make us more directly linked to the Calvin Klein brand name, so there is no more Calvin Klein CK or CK – Calvin Klein, all these different names which can really confuse final customers. It’s very direct, very simple. In the House of Calvin Klein there are many categories and we are one of those categories.”

Maintaining a design consistency when working as part of such a globally recognised fashion house is no mean feat, requiring consultation and forward planning years in advance. Burdese explains: “Some months ago we already started working on 2016 collections. What happens usually is that the creative directors of Calvin Klein accessories in New York, they call all of us in. So all of the people from the different categories share and discuss, for a couple of day’s brainstorming, the whole direction for the next two or three of years. Then we come back home and start to work and develop these trends. For us it’s a little bit more complicated because we have a longer pipeline, for apparel and accessories it’s a little bit easier, they haven’t started to work on 2016 yet, whereas we started about six months ago. Watches, especially Swiss-made watches, take time. We need to have input, guidelines and trends six months in advance.”

But the flow of ideas is not just a one-way process with the fashion house influencing its various categories. Ideas and inspiration are then sent back to New York where they are often picked up by design colleagues, forming flourishes that appear throughout the label’s ranges.

“It’s a two-way process, we have in the past developed some watches, metal bracelets and jewellery collections taking inspiration from high heels or the handles of handbags but in the same way they have also taken inspiration for the clasps of some bags from the clasps we have used for our watches. It’s a really nice, fruitful co-operation because we exchange a lot. In the end it’s all about details.”

Burdese explains that the watch collections are becoming influential in this regard because of the longer lead-time necessary for the design and production of watches.
Calvin Klein watches currently sell through approximately 100 independent retailers in the UK and is exhibiting double-digital growth, but Burdese believes the collections and its strong UK team have far greater potential.

“We strongly believe we have a higher potential because Calvin Klein is amazingly strong in the UK. We have the right product, we have a good positioning. I think we can really express our potential in a much stronger way. So the goal is we need to at least double the distribution or even go up to 350 independent retailers [in the next two to three years].”

Grant Murdoch, Calvin Klein Watches and Jewelry brand manager for UK & Eire, added: “We do deal with Signet in terms of Ernest Jones through which we have 23 doors, so that’s a good thing to have in terms of a spearhead. But the main focus for me and the team is to try and grow that core business in the UK. In other countries it’s very different, it’s very multiple-led. What we have to do is compete with the likes of Guess and Michael Kors, where they’ve got that independent base.

“For us we offer the quality. The price point is very, very accessible but also offering something which is renowned in the fashion world; Calvin Klein is one of the top five fashion brands, so why aren’t we there? For us it’s about developing the brand slowly but surely, but also qualitatively as well. We’d love to have 600 doors, but it needs to be the right doors, in the right places.”
Calvin Klein’s UK retail network is very much focused on the independent retailer; the brand’s only multiple is Ernest Jones and it currently has no department stores signed up, although discussions are underway.

Burdese continues: “I think we have big potential which is not 100% exploited in this country yet. I think we really have to work on the brand awareness of the category [watches and jewellery] because the people of course know Calvin Klein, which has 85% brand awareness in this country, but they don’t necessarily know about watches and jewellery, they don’t know about the quality. In other countries they do, but I think here we have a lot of room to grow.”

Investment in getting that message across is still limited at present with the only pre-Christmas push involving point-of-sales promotional material and window displays combined with a ‘limited’ marketing budget. Burdese wants a much stronger presence in 2015, but wants to ensure sufficient retail coverage before making such a substantial investment.

“We already opened more than 35 doors in the UK this year and next year we have a very strong, aggressive action plan and yes, we will invest much more because this will be one of the markets with the highest percentage of growth.”

Burdese sees the joint-venture status of Calvin Klein Watches and Jewelry as a unique and bankable asset in terms of the finished product, which displays both the reputation and style of the fashion label and the quality control of the watch group behind the likes of Longines and Omega whilst still remaining affordable.
“I think none of the other brands in the fashion segment can do it, because either they are Chinese-made, not Swiss-made, so they don’t have the quality. Or if they are Swiss-made like Burberry or Gucci they are three times our price. We are really the only one there and I think we have to make dealers and customers know this.”

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