get to know the new generation of calvin klein

Carrying on Calvin Klein's groundbreaking and provocative legacy, Raf Simons is updating the classic American brand for a brand new America. Paris Jackson is the young activist, actor and 21st century American girl trusted with Raf's vision.

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Aug 4 2017, 8:05am

This article originally appeared in i-D's The Acting Up Issue, no. 349, Fall 2017.

In a society snapshot from an AIDS fundraiser in 1986, Calvin Klein is seen whispering something in a bejewelled Elizabeth Taylor's ear, his baby-faced poster girl Brooke Shields just behind them. No visual reference ties Paris Jackson, the newest face of the Calvin Klein brand, closer together with its history. Her father, Michael Jackson, was mythically connected with both Taylor and Shields—in the 80s, rumours flourished he'd proposed to both of them. Taylor, also a friend of Klein's, became Paris' godmother when she was born in 1998; Shields was there for her dad's memorial in 2009 when the world first saw Paris' face and heard a voice that would only get stronger. But Paris, now 19, doesn't speak about her dad and his friends anymore.

Sensationalised by the media, the openhearted interviews she gave when she launched her life in the spotlight over the past year put a stop to that, and she now prefers to communicate with journalists in writing. "You'd have to take Michael Bush up on that question," she writes in an email, asked about Michael's impact on fashion. "I don't really do questions about my father when I'm working." (Bush was Michael's dressmaker from 1986 until 2009.) Posed with the question of what her dad taught her about dressing, Paris simply quotes his 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk: "'My attitude is if fashion says it's forbidden, I'm going to do it.'"

Paris, of course, is now the ambassador for Calvin Klein, a gig fuelled not just by her Disney princess looks, but by what she represents as American royalty: her exceptional legacy as the daughter of the most fascinating man in the world. And while she is establishing herself as an activist, using her vast social media platforms to promote the causes close to her father's heart -- human rights, animal rights and the environment -- she is, for now, known as Michael Jackson's daughter. Things are upside-down for her new boss at Calvin Klein, Chief Creative Officer Raf Simons, who showed his first collection for the brand in February, and has effectively married into the American empire that is Calvin Klein, where he has already tapped into pop cultural phenomena with campaigns featuring the cast of Moonlight, Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown, and The xx's video for I Dare You. What will these bastions of American royalty do now they've joined forced? "Change the world, hopefully," Paris writes. "We've already started spit-balling some ideas on how we can bring my work (fashion) life into my activism. I'm very excited about this because I feel as though I'll be able to express myself and who I am with CK." Paris made a red carpet appearance with Simons at the Met Ball in May, an unlikely Californian-Flemish constellation, which somehow seemed to make sense. Here was the once so independent menswear designer stepping into American establishment, flanked by the showbiz princess, who feels compelled to rebel.

"We're still brand new and quite fresh, and still getting to know one another, but the time that I did spend with Raf he expressed his enthusiasm regarding what I stand for, liberally," Paris says. "He's a really great guy and I'm stoked for what we're going to do together." It's been a year since the announcement was made: Raf Simons, the 49-year-old menswear designer, who took on women's fashion at Jil Sander and then Christian Dior, would unify the direction of Calvin Klein under one vision. "They are doing something that I had hoped they would have done, which is replace me—find someone who can with a singular vision and oversee everything that is creative," Klein himself, now 74, said in an interview before the announcement, and when Francisco Costa and Italo Zucchelli departed the brand after more than a decade as respective heads of women's and menswear, the stars were aligned. Simons joined as Chief Creative Officer, making his trusty creative partner through the years, Peter Mullier, Creative Director.

Paris wears marching band vest Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

"The attraction and the reason why I came to Calvin is because it has the highest and the lowest and everything in between, so you can reach out to everybody," Simons said in an interview with Amuse in March. "Which, in high fashion, is not always easy. It was not something that was possible at Dior, for example. It is possible at Calvin Klein." And so, with his autumn/winter 17 debut show in February, he realised the highest point of that dream, in a collection he said reflected contemporary America: "All of these different people within different styles and dress codes. Not one era, not one thing, not one look. It is the coming together of different characters and different individuals, just like America itself. It is the unique beauty and emotion of America." Just like the history of Calvin Klein itself. Paris Jackson is astutely aware of the groundbreaking legacy she's lending her face to. "Calvin Klein was one of the first to have a lesbian Asian model, which was incredible," she points out. "They did it before it was accepted in our society. They've been open to diversity not just with ethnicities, but with the LGBTQ+ community as well. Jenny Shimizu is a total badass and Calvin gave her the recognition I think she deserved."

Since a very young Brooke Shields looked a little too sultry for some to handle in her first campaign for the brand in 1980, Calvin Klein's ads have been a point of provocation for nearly four decades. For autumn/winter 17, Raf Simons interpreted the brand's sexual tension between the glamorous minimalism Klein invented and its underlying exuberance, in fetishised varsity jumpers, plastic coats and dresses encasing furs and feathers, and slick head-to-toe leather looks. And so, the blunt Miss Jackson and her porcelain face fit in rather perfectly. "I know many of the older (more conservative) people that keep up with me don't necessarily approve of my behaviour. My tattoos, my language, the way I dress," she says. "Of course I understand, though. No matter how thin you slice something it always has two sides, so there's always more than just one opinion."

She's talking, of course, about the profane vocabulary she uses in her abundant Instagram Stories and her dishevelled Cali hippie girl look, contrasted by the undeniable fact that Paris is born into well-spoken, dressed-up privilege. (She and her two brothers are heirs to the billion-dollar Michael Jackson Estate, which made $825 million in 2016 alone.) "I see where they're coming from, I just wish they could see past the materialistic things that make me who I am, and focus on who I really am, and what I'm trying to accomplish," she continues. "If they saw that, maybe they wouldn't be so cruel. On the other hand, I do get feedback from some of the younger members, of what I guess we could call a 'fandom', that appreciate my blunt honesty and attitude. Some have told me that it brings them courage, which is all I could really ask for."

These are the post-millennials, who Paris will bring to Calvin Klein, and who perhaps follow her more by virtue of her social media profile the way they follow the Jenners, and less because they're lifelong Michael Jackson devotees like some of the rest of us, who still remember the 90s. And while we can dream on about the day Paris will tell us fairytales of life with her fantastical father, she will become an independent role model for Raf Simons' new generation of Calvin Klein fans, who'll join a humanitarian revolution that would have made Michael proud.

Soon, Paris will launch her first project with The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, the passionate legacy of her glamorous godmother—and a cause historically supported by Calvin Klein and the brand he sold to PVH in 2002 and retired from the year after. "The lack of privacy as well as the judgement and criticism on my integrity and character that I receive, being in the spotlight," Paris writes in her email, "is the price I'm willing to pay for the change I'm going to make, and the impact I plan on leaving on this earth."

Paris wears marching band vest Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Julia wears marching band trousers and cowboy boots Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Fernando wears marching band vest Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Dylan wears coat, marching band trousers and cowboy boots Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Blesnya wears marching band vest and marching band trousers Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Ernesto wears marching band uniform shirt and rollneck Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Ernesto wears marching band uniform shirt, rollneck and marching band trousers Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Fernando wears marching band vest, marching band trousers and cowboy boots Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Skylar wears marching band uniform shirt, rollneck and marching band trousers Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Lulu wears marching band uniform shirt and rollneck Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Skylar wears marching band uniform shirt, rollneck and marching band trousers Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Dylan wears marching band trousers Calvin Klein 205W39NYC.

Credits


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Willy Vandeperre
Styling Olivier Rizzo

Hair Anthony Turner at Streeters. Make-up Lynsey Alexander at Streeters. Nail technician Marisa Carmichael at Lowe & Co. Lighting technician Romain Dubus. Photography assistance Colin Smith and Fred Mitchel. Digital operator Henri Coutant. On-set retouching Stephane Virlogeux. Styling assistance Niccolo Torelli, Eugenia Gamero, Emily Moiseve and Derik Johnson. Wardrobe co-ordinator Leonel Becerra. Hair assistance Simon Khan and Drew Schaefering. Studio manager Charlotte Arts. Production Simon Malvindi and Hye Young Shim at Red Hook Labs. Productions co-ordinators Kevin Warner and Francis McKenzie. Production assistance Austin Kearns, Alex Woods and William Mathieu. Casting director Ashley Brokaw. Talent Paris Jackson. Models Julia Nobis at DNA. Lulu at The Lions. Skylar Tartz at Elite. Blesnya Minher at Society. Dylan Christensen at APM. Fernando Schuster at Hakim. Ernesto Cervantes.