Can Kendall Jenner wake the sleeping giant that is Calvin Klein Jeans?
That's what the Seventh Avenue stalwart is hoping.
Jenner, 19, lent her reality-to-runway star power to the brand Thursday night at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. at a launch party for the limited-edition #MyCalvins Denim Series, a capsule collection of '90s-nostalgic high-waist jeans, sporty oversized tees, sweats and backpacks designed with Jenner's generation in mind.
Jenner appears in ads for the collection, pouting in a cropped logo tee and fleece shorts, including on L.A.'s prime piece of fashion real estate, the billboard in front of the Chateau on Sunset Boulevard. The collection, $58 to $348, is being sold exclusively at Opening Ceremony stores until May 15 when it goes wide on calvinklein.com.
Jenner was in no mood to talk about her father Bruce Jenner's TV tell-all coming up on Friday night, which one of the stylish guests at the bash confessed she's organizing a viewing party to watch.
She's got her own life. As one of the most in-demand models of the moment, she's taken recent turns on the runway for Alexander Wang, Balmain and Chanel, is GQ magazine's current cover girl, and a muse to Karl Lagerfeld.
"My first memory of Calvin Klein was the Kate Moss, Mark Wahlberg ad, it was amazing," Jenner said at the party at the Chateau, referring to the sexy underwear spread from 1992, which launched Moss' career at age 17, before Jenner was even born. The 1981 Brooke Shields, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins" denim ad came out before dad Bruce even met mom Kris.
"Modeling was always something I wanted to do," Jenner said. "When I was in middle school, me and my friends would go off and take photos. I even made my own modeling book. It's the stupidest thing."
Jenner was picked off to pose with Opening Ceremony boutique founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, who are alchemists of modern-day shopping, turning their powers to transform a brand from old to gold onto Calvin Klein Jeans, just as they have onto countless other brands, including DKNY, Pendleton and Teva.
Then she was whisked upstairs for interviews.
"My life in the past year has been so different from what it used to be," Jenner said of her fashion career, which does not include being followed by "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" cameras. She keeps the two separate.
All those years in front of the camera were good training though. "The audience doesn't freak me out," she said of the runway shows. "I try not to look at anybody. It's kind of entertaining when you're not looking but you're listening to the oohs and aahs."
Kendall Jenner's deal with Calvin Klein, and the #MyCalvins social media campaign to appeal to her 24 million Instagram followers, is part of a bigger strategy to bring cool back to the 47-year-old Calvin Klein by tapping into fashion's current nostalgia for the 1990s, and the brand's heritage of controversial advertising. The effort kicked off earlier this year with Justin Bieber appearing in Calvin Klein Underwear ads, which became widely spoofed, just as Calvin Klein ads were in the 1980s and '90s.
"We're a brand that provokes conversation," said Melisa Goldie, chief marketing officer for Calvin Klein, adding, "And for us, one of the most important things is tapping into a younger audience."
Goldie hopes the capsule collection and Jenner's celebrity will be the start of a new page for Calvin Klein Jeans, a division of the Phillips Van Heusen-owned American fashion house that also has ready-to-wear collections for men and women, underwear, sportswear, hosiery, eyewear, fragrance and more.
"I remember shopping at Marshalls and buying Calvin Klein," Opening Ceremony's Lim said, referring inadvertently to the brand's spiral into off-price stores in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "There are so many access points, and no matter where you entered, you felt like you were part of the brand."
In February 2013, Van Heusen bought Calvin Klein Jeans from Warnaco, bringing it back under the same umbrella as other Calvin Klein products.
"We acquired the [denim] business from Warnaco, and we've been spending the last 26 months diving into it. We were the first American designer jean so there's a huge heritage there, a huge legacy," said Goldie, referring to the brand's innovation of putting its name on the back pocket of its jeans. "But it's also a lifestyle brand. You're going to see more of that from us … being less category driven," she added, hinting that there would be more partnerships to come.
It will be interesting to see if the new Calvin Klein Jeans can elevate the Calvin Klein brand name as a whole. In a traditional luxury business model, the women's runway collection, designed by Francisco Costa since 2003, would be the engine for the company's creative growth. But it hasn't been, in large part because it is barely produced. In Los Angeles, for example, it's only available in a small quantity at Opening Ceremony. Now, Calvin Klein seems to be trying to reposition itself from the bottom-up, and hoping the magic will rub off on all its myriad collections and categories.
So on Monday, May 4, jeans star Jenner will be wearing a custom Calvin Klein gown to the Met Gala in New York, known unofficially as the Oscars of fashion. She hasn't seen the gown yet, which is being designed around the gala's "China: Through the Looking Glass" theme, but she's sure it's going to be "amazing."