Gulin-Merle, who reports to Cheryl Abel-Hodges, chief executive officer of Calvin Klein, has been with the company since May 2018. Earlier this year, she added responsibilities as the first-ever chief digital officer of PVH Corp. to lead its digital strategy and transformation across all brands, focusing on driving consumer engagement and leveraging technology.
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“It has been very purposeful to serve such a clear and iconic brand and to make its DNA more digital-first and more diverse. It is bittersweet to leave one of the most modern marketing teams in the industry. I am thankful to the PVH teams for their openness to change and ability to constantly challenge any form of status quo,” said Gulin-Merle. She plans to pursue new professional opportunities.
Abel-Hodges told WWD, “Marie led a rapid transformation of Calvin Klein’s marketing team into a digital-first, consumer-centric organization with leading data-driven brand platforms; we thank her for the impact and talent she brought to Calvin Klein. Thanks to her and the team’s efforts, our latest performance in consumer engagement is at an all-time high. The highly capable leaders in place will continue to drive the brand vision and business forward while we conduct a search for a CMO.”
Gulin-Merle’s cmo responsibilities will be handled by the existing leadership team until then.
Prior to joining Calvin Klein, Gulin-Merle was chief marketing officer of L’Oréal USA, where she transformed the company’s marketing functions. Among her achievements were the company’s first digital up-skilling curriculum for marketers, data capabilities, in-house content studio and first-to-market partnerships with major platforms and publishers. Prior to that, she was global head of integrated marketing communications at the brand’s headquarters in Paris from 2010 to 2014, and launched the app, Makeup Genius, which was downloaded more than 20 million times.
Gulin-Merle initiated a marketing group known as InCKubator at Calvin Klein, which Hodges said will move under a design-led initiative. Gulin-Merle had built an internal marketing organization to oversee the brand’s content, ranging from retail store design to Instagram posts. Sources said she hired senior executives from firms such as Adidas, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Ralph Lauren Corp. and Lululemon Athletica Inc.
InCKubator was expected to create four to six initiatives a year aimed at various consumer groups. The projects could include apparel, retail spaces, experiences, collaborations with tech platforms and content. The goal was to produce apparel for sale, at a range of price points and to connect with the culture through these communities. Abel-Hodges said it will launch in 2020. She said no layoffs are planned in the marketing department.
Regarding a new designer, Abel-Hodges said a search is still underway for a creative lead at the company. “I’m talking to lots of people and have nothing to comment at this point,” she said.
Once Raf Simons abruptly left Calvin Klein as chief creative officer in December 2018, Gulin-Merle was charged with creating a high-wattage “halo effect” to drive sales of jeans and underwear, without having the advantage of a high-profile designer or a designer collection. Over the past year, Calvin Klein has shuttered its Manhattan flagship at 654 Madison Avenue, closed its Milan office and exited the luxury business. The company embarked on a new digital-first strategy. One of Gulin-Merle’s campaigns, launched in May, was “I Speak My Truth” in #MyCalvins, which featured such celebrities as Bella Hadid, Shawn Mendes, Billie Eilish and Kendall Jenner. The campaign spotlighted today’s most influential voices telling their own stories in their own words and encouraged others around the globe to do the same. Each individual shared their personal truth through emotional videos.
The focus on digital came to the forefront late last year when Emanuel Chirico, ceo of PVH Corp., revealed poor quarterly results from the Raf Simons experience at Calvin Klein. He said, “Further, we will focus on driving a digital-first approach to the brand. Importantly, marketing is one of the faster levers that we can address. For holiday 2018, we are shifting more of our media spend from halo marketing to more commercial, digital and social media advertising.”
In addition, the company said it planned to update the frequency of its Calvin Klein posts on social platforms like Instagram, and would increasingly use micro influencers and host local activation to drive engagement, particularly with Millennials and Gen Z. The company adopted a “consumer marketing organization” and a digital-first approach, bypassing print magazines. The concept was to accommodate the rapidly changing demands of today’s consumers with highly specialized teams focused on areas including consumer engagement and the shopper experience.
In August, Calvin Klein reported revenues for the quarter decreased 6 percent to $873 million.