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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Calvin Klein RTW Spring 2006

Photo By Robert Mitra

Calvin Klein RTW Fall 2012

Photo By George Chinsee

WWD: At some events, there are three actresses in very similar dresses, all by different designers.
We haven’t had that happen to us. When I say collaboration, yes, we do listen, but it has to be genuine.

WWD: It’s interesting that you look at it as a separate aspect of design.
It is completely different. It’s a different world.

WWD: Is that kind of collaboration difficult, when you’re working with someone concerned only about her own image, and not yours?
It’s not difficult. It’s just a different aspect of designing. Don’t forget, I worked for Tom Ford at Gucci. Bill Blass was my first job. Oscar de la Renta was my second job. I have kind of seen it all.

WWD: That’s quite a lineup of employers. Who was the easiest boss?
They were all different. Tom Ford and Oscar, they’re both amazing; I had a fantastic relationship with both of them. At Oscar, you felt like you were going to your home. It was so relaxed and family oriented. He had lunch for us every day. It was wonderful. Tom — he’s sexy, he’s great. He wasn’t a micromanager.

WWD: Tom didn’t micromanage?
He wasn’t a micromanager in the sense that he let you do your job. He edited. He changed things. But for me, there was a lot of freedom. And I learned a lot from him. What I’m trying to say is he allowed me to do the job. There was a level of trust.

WWD: How was Calvin as a boss?
Calvin was amazing. We worked together for a year. My first fabric selection for Calvin was over a weekend. There was probably half of this room — suitcases filled with stacks and stacks of fabrics. He loved old Forties fabrics. He once told me that a stitcher was a great inspiration to him — one of his stitchers. He was so meticulous. He is just so sharp. It was the first time, I think, that I saw a designer with that passion for textiles.

WWD: Bill Blass — your first job.
I was a licensee. Remember the Hero Group? I was part of that. I was an assistant. I used to cut fabrics and design dresses. I would go to Bill’s office to see collections and Xerox the sketches. I was a young assistant.

WWD: Increasingly, designers make a distinction between runway and commercial collections. What is the ultimate distribution of your runway collection?
Very little distribution. There’s an aspect of runway today that’s similar to [celebrity dressing]. I think the shows have become spectaculars. It’s propaganda. It’s [directed at] the editors, the population directly connected to it. It has to excite.

WWD: Talk a little more about fabrics. Fast fashion seems to cover any silhouette so quickly. Fabric has become so important now.
They can knock off a style, but they’re not going to have the fabric. There’s time and development. So that’s an advantage of how we operate. We have to separate ourselves, and that’s how it is.

WWD: Do you design with specific global markets in mind?
I would say it’s more of a merchandising approach than design. We’re opening a great number of stores in China. I plan to open a store in L.A. now. You’re sensitive to that, but it’s merchandising. We have a great partner in Asia, and there’s constant integration and feedback. What’s the pant style that sells the most? What fabrics work? And then we cut things.

WWD: Everyone is fascinated with Brazil right now. As a Brazilian, what stereotypes do you think other people have of Brazil?
There are truths to the stereotype. It’s sunny; it’s bright. People are sensuous. “Sex” isn’t the right word, but “sensuous,” “sexy” — I think that’s a stereotype that holds up. Also, I think of Brazil as modern. Maybe it’s just my interests as a kid. I wanted to be an architect, so I looked to Brasilia. Completely modernist and all cement. It’s a city that was built without traffic lights. Those are the things I was interested in as a kid.

WWD: What does it mean today to be a modernist?
I think it’s being sensitive to your surroundings and how we live and how we communicate. You always have to look into the future, but in the present. When I mentioned Brasilia as this modernist thing, it’s because it broke so many rules. It’s almost utopian but in reality, it’s a stroke of genius. Brasilia was built in the middle of nowhere and to decentralize the population of Brazil, to move the population inward, which it did. Very much like the railroads in America, there is a modernist approach. It has to have a function.

WWD: Changing subjects, social media. How important is it to the Calvin Klein brand?
I do Instagram. I started that about a year ago and I enjoy it tremendously. I’ve started to look at it a little more corporate, perhaps.

WWD: Such as?
For the show, we’re focusing on Instagram. We’re also working with bloggers from around the world — dressing them and sharing content. And we’ll use our Tumblr contributor, Hanneli Mustaparta.

WWD: Why Instagram?
Because it’s visual.

WWD: You don’t tweet?
I have a Twitter account, but I don’t think it’s very good for me. My English is not so good.

WWD: I think you really have to commit.
It’s a full-time job. Talking about social media, this is slightly different, but I’ve just been invited by Google — Google does this incredible think tank called Zeitgeist, and I’ve just been invited, which is right after the shows.

WWD: Are you going?
Yes. Just to sit and listen.

WWD: What makes a look resonate over time?
They are all pretty visceral to me. It starts with the fabric. I think that most successful collections that I have done are the most visceral. It expresses something.



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