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The House That Calvin Klein Built

The designer discussed his career, fashion and more during a rare public tête-à-tête with Fern Mallis at 92Y in New York.

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LEAVING CALVIN KLEIN
I consulted for three years. Actually, I did a lot more during that period of time than I thought I would do. Then they kindly asked if I would stay on. When you create something and you’re used to running it, I won’t say being in control, when you’re working with so many people, it’s not like I’m running the whole show, it’s complex. But the decision does lie with me. For me, it was best just to let go and move on and enjoy a new time in my life. I don’t follow what the company does. I don’t really follow much of what anyone does. I look at Women’s Wear. I see magazines, but since I sold the company it was doing about $2 billion at retail. Now it’s about $6 billion. I still have a financial interest in the company, a very serious one. I’m not complaining.

FASHION’S RISING STARS
The stars that I know are the ones who are established. You know, Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera and Donna Karan, who is one of my very close friends. We traveled together to Africa and had a great time together. We had so much fun. We laughed like crazy. And I took a lot of pictures. Instead of standing behind the photographers directing, I was holding the camera myself.

ADVICE FOR NEW DESIGNERS
You need to have a vision. A designer, any designer, needs to say something that is different than what’s being said. And then you have to be convincing. Even if you’re not confident, act as though you are confident. That is the only way you can convince people to believe in what you believe in. And that’s not easy. I think repetition is reputation. Think of Ralph Lauren, I mean you know what he does. Donna Karan, the same thing.

THE 2003 MELTDOWN IN MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
I’ve had a couple. I’ll never forget, Kelly said, “You have to do it at a game before the playoffs when everyone is watching?” I struggled with addiction and lots of people do. That was really a shameful, horrible moment. It had nothing to do with work. I’ve done enough therapy and enough work on myself. Addiction is not caused by stress on the job, even though lots of people in the fashion industry have suffered from the same problem. It’s not about the work. It has more to do with your childhood and lots of other things. You’re always in recovery. You’re always aware that this is something you don’t want to do, whether it’s drugs, sex, food. There are lots of addictions.

DROPPING $30 MILLION TO TEAR DOWN A HAMPTONS MANSION
I tore down the house that was there. It was a monstrosity and an embarrassment to the town. I built a full-scale model of the house that we are building in Southampton on the property of what I thought I wanted so that I could walk through the space. It is very difficult to know proportions and height to get it right. I wasn’t building a house, just a structure.

THE LIKELIHOOD OF ANOTHER CALVIN KLEIN-TYPE COMPANY
I always think positive. When I started, way back then, people said, “Oh, you’re crazy. This is a terrible time to start a business and you will be lucky if you have a $2 million business.” I think the one thing about fashion is the stores and the people are always ready for something new. Being established, lasting for a long time when you think of brands like Hermès, Gucci and the other great names out there, that’s tough. But the opportunities always exist for someone new, young and talented.

CALVIN, THE BUSINESS VS. CALVIN, THE MAN
Sometimes when I see visuals or something creative, I think, “If I were doing it, I would do it differently” — naturally. But I’m not doing it. I’m not in control. When I can’t control it, why get upset about it?

AVERAGE DAY — ARCHIVES, BOOKS, THE HOUSE?
Well, all of it. I’ve been working with Madonna Badger. I don’t know if people know how much work goes into every detail. I mean, it’s not an accident when something is well done. It requires such devotion and such talent. So everything — I can’t begin to tell you what I’m doing with my apartment, my house and it’s fun to do things for myself. Because I’ve always done it for the company. All my work was for people out there, not that I had a bad life, but now I’m enjoying living in environments I’m creating with people I greatly respect. And spending time speaking to groups and universities.

TO-DO ON HIS BUCKET LIST
I’m in a relationship. I fell in love with a young man who is a total athlete. And we went paragliding off Aspen Mountain about four weeks ago. That was a trip, let me tell you.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
There are no favorites. It’s the culmination of all the work that is really important to me. It’s not one collection. It’s not about one anything. It’s about all of the years constantly doing the best you can do. For me, that’s really the definition of success. People sometimes think, well it’s how much money you make or whatever they think about success. Just doing the best I can do and then hoping people appreciate it. But then I know I wouldn’t feel successful.

THE TAKEAWAY
Family and friends, really that’s what completes life. I devoted a great deal of my life to my work, which I am very happy that I did. But I was there, I was a father. Marci and I have now the greatest relationship. And I met someone and fell in love. And he’s a great guy. I am now experiencing life in a whole new way, in a fresh way, through someone’s eyes who hasn’t seen the life that I’ve seen.

 

 

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