Kardashians, Meet Calvin Klein


Kardashians, Meet Calvin Klein

Critically examining the Kardashians' new Calvin Klein campaign.

The Kardashians, CALVIN KLEIN, Raf Simons–perhaps the most unlikely combination. When I saw their visual campaign earlier this season, it annoyed me to my core. I was frustrated to a point where I was consciously aware of my emotions and laughed at my own silliness. I’m a twenty-something adult who is actually upset by Raf Simons putting the Kardashians in his campaign—what does it have to do with me?  However, I decided not to judge this campaign with my own emotions but with the standard of absolute utilitarianism; I realized my frustration was not about Raf Simons betraying the avant-garde or not shopping at CK before that campaign was put out, but about my beliefs regarding the industry going through a structural crisis.

Photo by Willy Vanderperre

There is one quote that lingers in my mind: “I had added meaningful layers to things that were meaningless.” Maybe that describes the relationship between people and fashion. We inevitably fall into the trap of over-interpretation, like the Kardashians’ campaign—irony, pop art, contemporary, American reality…With our trust and admiration of Raf Simons, we can create thousands of different rhetorics to justify this product of fashion. Once we do that, we restrain ourselves by setting fashion as the fundamental way of thinking and viewing the world. Furthermore, we are afraid to challenge the spiritual authority it has established within our beliefs. This same problem is exacerbated when we tolerate designers who do not know how to cut and tailor, designers who do not draw and designers who do not touch the fabric themselves. We encourage the art of playing with ideas and concepts, and regard this practice as more superior than craftsmanship. We have entitled the best designers in the industry the role of philosopher and they once lived up to this duty.

Photo by Willy Vanderperre

Reading the show notes of Martin Margiela from 1989 to 1999, solely through the medium of text and images, one can imagine how he used tape, broken pieces of fabric and plaits to lead an actual revolution in the countryside and underground clubs. Immersed in that experience, one cannot fight the urge to respond to that calling. Great designers, using fashion as the form, guide and inspire us to not be limited by our imagination in life, manifesting the possibility of reshaping the world from the bottom up. People realized fashion can be the most infectious and inspiring medium of ideas, and fashion can convey a kind of courageous, highly independent lifestyle. In 2008, Margiela left the fashion industry to “enjoy his life outside the insistent glare of the fashion world.” The era of intelligent fashion was transitory and ephemeral. Ironically, it was after his disappearance that I grew old enough and conscious enough to see fashion for its art, feeling destined to choose it as my lens through which to view the world.

Fashion delineates contemporariness. Maybe I am not conservative but I am definitely not contemporary, because my beliefs about fashion stagnated in that era. Time has created the perfect filter that retains the essence. How talented were those designers! Fashion exists as superficial subordination to people, but they are able to discover precious treasure from the frivolous and meaningless, documenting things that are more permanent than the existence of humanity itself. Certainly, everything has changed. Fashion now is grander, has more of a say in the social discourse, and it is more influential on a mass-public level, albeit with less meaning and intent.


At the moment as I become aware of this reduction and realize that maybe fashion can no longer fulfill every aspect of my spiritual needs, it has already become my life, my career and my passion. When I step back from its glittering world and take a closer look into other realms–literature, art, film, anthropology and even technology–it is easy to conclude that other fields have more profound ideas and a broader perspective. After all, fashion surrenders to consumerist society, trading the freedom of being unique and resistant for capital while claiming to retain that freedom. Replacing thinking with buying–that might be the spirit of this era and it has lasted for a long time. But we will always have hope for fashion, a hope that convinces us to accept the reality of fashion to no longer be able to broaden the boundary of our thinking, and to relentlessly rely on the nutrients and essence from other fields to give it meaning and justification. The Kardashian campaign makes me feel sorry for what I love, which has its root in culture but tirelessly runs away to another side of reality.

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