In conversation with Benoit Tordeur, Vice President of Visual Experience, Calvin Klein, The Americas.
Benoit joined Calvin Klein just six months ago. Before that, he worked at Coach, Burberry, Levi’s, and H&M, with his professional journey taking him across multiple cities worldwide, including New York (where he calls home), Hong Kong, San Francisco, Paris, and Brussels (Benoit's birthplace). In his current role, Benoit leads the visual strategy for Calvin Klein's Americas Region, which entails overseeing the creation, production, and execution of all visual directives, such as windows, amplifications, store music, and training initiatives across the Retail, Outlet, and Wholesale channels
SDD: As the VP of Visual Experience at Calvin Klein, you oversee a wide range of visual elements, from retail stores to e-commerce. How do you approach creating cohesive and innovative visual experiences that resonate with customers across such diverse channels?
BT: Innovation is achieved through continuous creative thinking, curiosity, research, and competitive analysis. Cohesiveness comes from the strict observation of Mr. Calvin Klein’s mantra: 'We stand for being modern, contemporary, sophisticated, pure, natural, and often minimal. Consistent.' We ensure that everything we create and produce goes through the brand filters. I feel fortunate to work for a brand with a very clear, unalterable, and timeless aesthetic. As far as e-commerce is concerned we are addressing it as an online Flagship store with all the bells and whistles it deserves including the full-blown marketing campaign and an extended product assortment.
Calvin Klein Holiday Takeover, Woodbury Mall New York, NY
SDD: Your role involves maintaining the integrity of the global Calvin Klein brand while allowing for regional autonomy. How do you strike a balance between consistency and adaptability to ensure that visual experiences connect with local audiences while staying true to the brand's essence?
BT: We work very closely with the global teams, and once a concept has landed, we adapt it to the Americas market, customer, and culture. We design our Flagship experiences by bringing some ideas to the next level like the Holiday façade wraps in L.A. and New York for example. We are also driving our own initiatives and work directly with agencies to develop specific content. Regardless everything we develop is aligned with the iconic marketing campaigns that take center stage in our windows and in-store.
SDD: Developing comprehensive tools and training for visual standards is a crucial aspect of your role. Can you share some insights into how you ensure that your visual team is equipped to consistently deliver high-quality and on-brand experiences across various consumer touchpoints?
BT: I lead a team responsible for producing visual training materials (all digital). In collaboration with our field teams, we identify key topics that promise maximum profitability. Subsequently, we craft guidelines that are disseminated to stores primarily through a Field Visual Merchandising team located in strategic cities within the region. Our ongoing process involves constant reviews of the material, achieved through store visits or surveys, to ensure that the content remains relevant and impactful. Here's a fascinating tidbit: we've harnessed the power of AI to swiftly analyze feedback from 130 stores in a mere 5 minutes. The prospect of technology enhancing efficiency and agility genuinely excites me, especially in the context of retail where speed is of the essence
Calvin Klein Holiday Instore, Woodbury Mall New York, NY
SDD: Calvin Klein is known for its iconic visual identity. How do you push the boundaries of creativity to bring fresh and engaging visual concepts to the brand, particularly in an era where consumer expectations are evolving rapidly?
BT: At Calvin, we seamlessly blend historical brand elements with contemporary architectural influences, drawing inspiration from the iconic Calvin Klein ad book to meticulously uphold brand coherence across all our initiatives. Our creative process involves scrutinizing each concept through a modern lens, taking into account factors such as color, shape, material, application, and scale. To maintain originality, extensive research is conducted to ensure our concepts stand apart from those of other brands. Collaborative brainstorming sessions with our team and trusted vendors further refine and enhance our ideas, leading to innovative applications and production techniques.
Calvin Klein Holiday Set Up, Citadel Mall Los Angeles, CA
SDD: The coordination of key milestones, including floor sets, windows, and special events, must be a complex task. How do you approach the strategic planning of these elements to ensure a seamless and visually impactful experience for consumers throughout the year?
BT: My work revolves around two distinct streams. First, there's the development of seasonal buys and assortments, a comprehensive process that entails setting up four different showrooms for both Apparel and Underwear across multiple channels. Fortunately, at Calvin, we're privileged to have a dedicated team overseeing the planning of these crucial activities. Our active involvement ensures that all stakeholders have the necessary tools and spaces to carry out their work effectively.
The second stream involves the execution phase, which encompasses creating visual guidelines, implementing them in stores, activating campaigns, and managing production deadlines with our fabricators. The key to success in this phase? Calendars! Not a day passes without discussions revolving around deadlines. Within our team, there's someone designated as the guardian of all visual activities, keeping us on track. The field team then disseminates all activities to the stores, ensuring flawless execution. It truly is a well-orchestrated dance.
Calvin Klein Holiday Instore, Citadel Mall Los Angeles, CA
SDD: Given your focus on driving commercial performance through visual experiences, could you share an example of a particularly successful activation where the visual concept directly contributed to a notable increase in consumer engagement or sales?
BT: The timing could not be more perfect, as we launched our Holiday campaign last November, aptly named 'Giving Calvin Klein.' In my six months here, we've crafted a simple yet highly effective visual language centered around the concept of the red rock. Providing a bit of background, Mr. Klein himself, an avid nature enthusiast, inspired this idea. We took the natural element of a rock, frequently used in our past window displays, and transformed it into a vibrant red to capture the festive mood of the holiday season. This red rock concept was then expertly rendered in both 3D and 2D formats. It seamlessly took over our windows, store interiors, signage, and shopping bags. Internally, it also made its mark on our digital recruitment ads, holiday presentations, and visual guidelines. The results speak volumes: stores embracing the red rock concept not only surpassed sales by 15 percentage points but also outpaced traffic by an impressive 10 percentage points compared to other stores. This success underscores the formidable impact of a strong visual concept that remains faithful to the brand's DNA
SDD: Leading a high-performing visual team requires motivation and engagement. What strategies do you employ to foster creativity, collaboration, and motivation within your team, ensuring they stay inspired to consistently deliver outstanding visual experiences for Calvin Klein?
BT: I thrive in an environment surrounded by individuals who relish creative challenges, always eager for the next project or technological leap. What drives these individuals is the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the brand while simultaneously cultivating new skills and professional maturity. Consequently, I place particular emphasis on the challenges I present to the team, ensuring each project yields a win-win outcome. The journey of our red rock Holiday amplification was not without its share of hard work and dedication, leading to both sweat and tears. However, this process became more than just a visual spectacle – it forged new relationships with business partners and vendors. It taught us the art of collaboration, fostering resilience, and, most importantly, instilled a sense of urgency and agility that was previously absent from our endeavors.
Calvin Klein Holiday Window, Woodbury Mall New York, NY
Benoit is Vice President of Visual Experience at Calvin Klein, The Americas.
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