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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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WWD: How does it apply to your work?
F.C.:
I think it applies a great deal. What I would say differs slightly is [the creative approach]. I am highly inspired by art, highly inspired by the street, and I think I explore that a little more.

WWD: More so than Calvin?
F.C.:
Perhaps. He was very consistent. I think that I am perhaps a little more expressive at times due to what inspires me.

WWD: Were you always interested in art as an influence?
F.C.:
When I say art influences me, which it does, it’s not at all in a literal form. You go and see exhibitions or collections or meet an artist. It’s all a compilation. Every moment, at all times, all this information. Then all this information disappears, and it shows up later in the process. Our collections are never thematic. They have layers, all these influences that are hard to pin down.

WWD: What artists inspire you now?
F.C.:
Cecily Brown, Picasso, Basquiat. I mean, my God, when I look at his work, it’s just bigger. He grows. He has become so much bigger. He will never date.

WWD: From Calvin’s statement, the sex part, do you try to bring out a woman’s sexuality?
F.C.:
I think it’s interesting because Calvin set up this sexuality, but it only came across in the ads. Sometimes the clothes were just, you know, Calvinist. That’s the difference, because sometimes my clothes get to be a little sexier and a little more experimental in the sense that I play with cuts. I love fabric like Calvin does.

Click Here for a Slideshow of Celebs Wearing Calvin Klein >>

WWD: The Calvin Klein brand retains a singular image despite having several creative directors. How?
F.C.:
We have a great creative director, Fabian [Baron], who has been working at the company for many years. Fabian breathes the company and understands it. He is our rock when it comes to advertisement. It would be silly of us not to trust him. I supply ideas, I have meetings, we have discussions, but it’s really up to Fabian to create the language. He’s done a fantastic job. Again, it’s a collaboration thing.

WWD: Back to Calvin Klein, the man. Calvin has at times been the subject of tabloid gossip. Most recently, there was a piece in the New York Post about a supposedly licentious book proposal someone had written. Does that have any impact on the company, on the brand, on the mood in-house?
F.C.:
Personally, I find that totally uninteresting. I find it very upsetting that this book [proposal] is out there. It’s totally disrespectful. I’m so not interested in gossip. It just gives me the creeps. I love the work; I love what I do. If somebody sends me an interview that has any connotation of something that’s not interesting or genuine, I’m not interested. I really detach myself from it.

WWD: Calvin was perceived as a social designer. You seem more private. Do you consider yourself a private person?
F.C.:
As a young designer, I went out a lot. I thought it was so cool and important. Now I’ve reached a certain age where I love to work. I could just live here [at the studio]. Love, love, love, love. I’ve [worked] five weekends in a row and it’s great.

WWD: Talk about the spring collection.
F.C.:
There’s a lot of beautiful work, beautiful materials. I went through a whole Bauhaus period with textiles. Picasso was a starting point, Basquiat was another point — the time with Madonna, and their affair. And it was the time that I was arriving in New York, in the Eighties. So there’s definitely a street element. I was out there and experiencing all of it. It’s very beautiful, youthful.

WWD: Is there one woman, or a few, who represent that to you?
F.C.:
Oh, there are several. Dree Hemingway is a friend. Camilla [Nickerson] for me is just the most inspiring. She’s amazing. I just love her to death. She brings me that kind of confidence and strength.

WWD: I like that you didn’t feel obliged to go straight to the new perfume girl, Rooney Mara.
F.C.:
That’s a different side of the business. When you start dressing celebrities, there’s all this talk, “Oh, he’s a celebrity designer.” You know what? Calvin started that. Look at Brooke Shields. Andie MacDowell, right? I’m not doing anything here new. It’s just following the great concept that he left us here. I happen to do evening dresses — I love evening dresses.

WWD: How important is the celebrity thing?
F.C.:
It’s a major importance. It cannot be ignored. It’s just part of the business. I mean, look at your pages. Scarlett [Johansson] was our first hit [at the Met 2004]. Scarlett is a curvy, beautiful woman. She’s a goddess.

WWD: Katie Holmes.
F.C.:
This dress [a floaty white gown with a huge pleated skirt] was not to be worn; it was for a campaign. She puts the dress on and says, “I want to wear this.” So I’m like, “S--t, what am I going to do now?” It was so not appropriate to be worn, because there was so much fabric. But she put it on, she felt great, she looked great.

WWD: Nicole Kidman.
F.C.:
We’re just starting our relationship with her. She came to Cannes. This was a big success.… Hilary Swank, she won the Golden Globe [2005]. Elle Macpherson showed up in flip-flops [at the Met, 2005] and looked great.

WWD: Jennifer Lawrence.
F.C.:
I remember this moment [at the Oscars 2011]; she was nominated so young. Her character in [“Winter’s Bone”] is so tough. She shows up on the red carpet, first one there. Nobody knew who she was. A true beauty. Gorgeous. And the dress was fantastic.

WWD: How much are you willing to compromise your aesthetic in order to get a dress on someone?
F.C.:
We compromise.

WWD: Does that bother you?
F.C.:
It has to be looked at in a different way [than runway]. You have to look at the big picture.

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