Bridget Foley's Diary: Ten Years of Costa's Calvin

Francisco Costa discusses his start at Calvin Klein and his state of mind as he begins his second decade as the storied American brand’s creative director.

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Francisco Costa

Photo By Steve Eichner

Calvin Klein RTW Fall 2004

Photo By Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Collaboration. Innovation. Fearlessness. Those words radiate from the wall of Francisco Costa’s conference room, a vibrant gift from his staff on his most recent birthday, May 10, (which he shares with Miuccia Prada, he points out). The words were not chosen randomly, but emerged as talking points during an intense examination process Costa and his design team undertook in advance of the 10th anniversary as women’s creative director for Calvin Klein Collection. Costa thought it an appropriate moment to articulate a mission statement for the team, one reflecting past achievements and goals going forward. The result: “Our mission is to create provocative, sophisticated collections for confident women.”

On a break last week from working on the collection he will show today, Costa discussed that statement, his start at Calvin Klein and his state of mind as he begins his second decade as creative director of one of the most storied brands of American fashion.

WWD: Break down the elements of the statement for me.
Provocative — it’s a provocative brand. It’s the soul of Calvin. He was always ahead of the curve, whether it was his great advertisements or his great fragrances. It’s just a great reminder of the amazing company that he created. There is a fearlessness. I am very lucky to be here and have the support of corporate to do my job in the best way possible in the reality of today’s times. It would have been a total disaster if, at all, I had tried to be Calvin.

WWD: What do you mean?
To try to re-create what he created. It would have been a disaster. Calvin himself, I’m not quoting, but I remember that he never liked to be put into a category. I remember he didn’t appreciate being called a minimalist. There is a fantastic quote that he left us here, which is more the mission statement of the company.

WWD: “Confident.” In choosing a single descriptive for the Calvin Klein woman, you choose “confident.”
I think the women that we dress, the women who buy our clothes, they have a certain strength. It could be about the clothes, it could be about themselves. It’s just attractive.

WWD: How do the words on the wall relate?
They kept coming up in our discussion. Collaboration — it’s all about cooperation amongst us. When a sketch comes into this three-dimensional form and everybody contributes, it’s really fantastic. I can’t say it’s a work of one — it’s a work of ours.

WWD: Innovation?
Today, you cannot live without it. It’s a very competitive market. We went from having four collections a year to having eight collections a year. You have to keep up. Fearlessness is a liberation factor.

WWD: A difficult condition to achieve.
The most difficult.

Click Here for a Slideshow of the Francisco Costa's Looks Over the Years >>

WWD: Collaboration isn’t always easy, either.
For me, that’s most important. If I look at the house, I don’t think that we, as a company, would have been at all successful if it weren’t for collaboration, if it weren’t for all the teams working together, if it weren’t for the support of Tom Murry and Manny Chirico. It’s really a team. And also, all the creative directors. Kevin [Carrigan, ck Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein] does a fantastic job; Ulrich [Grimm, men’s and women’s shoes and accessories] does a fantastic job; Italo [Zucchelli, men’s Calvin Klein Collection] does a fantastic job; and it’s part of one. And I think that’s the success. It’s really a team.

WWD: So there’s collaboration on the Collection level, but also the brand level.
There is a strategic point of view that our management took in order to take this company to another level, and it has been extremely successful. It was sold for $700 million; we’re worth $8 billion now. It’s an amazing reality.

WWD: Calvin Klein is structured differently than many brands, with several creative directors for various areas. Have you ever wished that there were a single creative director — you?
No. First of all, I wouldn’t want to do it. Number two, I think it’s a very smart thing that the company did, appointing different [people with] different views for different markets. I couldn’t possibly do what Kevin does. I find our model the perfect model.

WWD: What does 10th anniversary in this role mean to you?
Calvin is a genius. There’s nothing I could touch that would be near enough. The challenge for me is to understand what I can contribute and make the best out of it. As a company, we are celebrating 10 years of great success. Ten years of amazing entrepreneurship from management and [hard work by] my colleagues here, my design team here and the design studios. That’s something to celebrate. And to look toward the future and how to take this even further. I get questions about why we don’t have more stores, but it’s all in works; it’s a process. There was a plan about how to run this business and how to make it a success. And we have. I think the company sits in an amazing position.

WWD: You took over from a “living legend.” Thinking back, what were your thoughts then and now? With benefit of hindsight, how do you assess your approach?
Calvin hired me. A year later, he sold the company. The fact was that PVH took over and they had to cut costs somehow. The whole staff that was in-house was fired. The whole studio, the whole production team, everybody. And we became a licensee. The minute we became a licensee, the structure that I had originally worked in [was gone]. Many people freaked out and left. I was a newcomer, here for only a year. I had no time to think about what exactly it meant. I had a job that I was paid to do. I had to design a collection and I had to move on with it. It was very simplistic. I feel that in a way, it actually worked for me — not having the understanding of all that was happening. I was just thinking this is what I have to do. There was nobody else, so I had to hire new people.

WWD: What was Calvin’s input at the time?
He was consulting for a few years, mostly on advertising. He would come in, but very honestly, he was not interested.

WWD: Do you have a personal relationship with Calvin today?
No, I don’t. Socially, yes, we see each other. A nice relationship, but not personal.

WWD: That Calvin statement you alluded to, what was it?
“We stand for being modern, contemporary, sophisticated, pure, natural and often minimal. Consistent. And, we stand for sex in a very big way. We are a brand that can affect youth and people of any age.”

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