Bridget Foley's Journal: Ten Years of Calvin de Costa (2023)

Collaboration. Innovation. Fearlessness. Those words radiate from the wall of Francisco Costa's conference room, a vibrant gift from his team on his most recent birthday, May 10 (which he shares with Miuccia Prada, he notes). The words were not chosen at random, but emerged as talking points during an intense selection process that Costa and her design team undertook ahead of her 10th anniversary as Female Creative Director of the Calvin Klein Collection. Costa felt it was an appropriate time to articulate a mission statement for the team, one that reflects past accomplishments and goals for the future. The result: "Our mission is to create provocative and sophisticated collections for self-confident women."

Taking a break last week from work 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 for one of America's most celebrated fashion brands.

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World Water Day:Please break down the statement elements for me.
Provocative: It is a provocative brand. It is Calvin's soul. He was always at the forefront, whether it was his big ads or his big fragrances. It's just a great reminder of the amazing company he created. There is bravery. I am very lucky to be here and to have the support of companies to do my job in the best way possible in the reality of current times. It would have been a complete disaster if he had tried to be Calvin.

World Water Day:What do you mean?
To try to recreate what he created. It would have been a disaster. Calvin himself, I'm not quoting, but I remember he never liked being put into a category. I remember not liking being called a minimalist. There's a fantastic quote he left us here, which is more of the company's mission statement.

World Water Day:"Clear." When choosing a single descriptive for the Calvin Klein woman, you choose "safe".
I think the women we dress, the women who buy our clothes, have a certain strength. It could be about the clothes, it could be about themselves. It's just attractive.

World Water Day:How are the words on the wall related?
They kept coming up in our discussion. Collaboration: This is about the cooperation between us. When a sketch gets this three-dimensional shape and everyone contributes, it's really fantastic. I cannot say that it is the work of one, it is our work.

World Water Day:¿Innovación?
Nowadays, you can't live without it. It's a very competitive market. We went from four collections a year to eight collections a year. You have to keep up. Fearlessness is a liberating factor.

World Water Day:A difficult condition to achieve.
The hardest.

Click here for a slideshow of Francisco Costa's looks over the years >>

World Water Day:Collaboration is not always easy.
For me, this is the most important thing. If I look at the house, I don't think that we as a company would be successful if it weren't for the collaboration, if it wasn't for all the teams working together, if it wasn't for the support of Tom Murry and Manny Chirico. It really is 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, Calvin Klein menswear] does a fantastic job; and is part of one. And I think that's success. It really is a team.

World Water Day:So there's collaboration at the collection level, but also at the brand level.
There is a strategic point of view that our management has taken to take this company to the next level, and it has been extremely successful. Sold for $700 million; we are now worth $8 billion. It's an incredible reality.

World Water Day:Calvin Klein is structured differently than many brands, with multiple creative directors for different areas. Ever wish there was only one creative director: you?
No. First, I wouldn't want to do that. Number two, I think it's a very smart thing that the company has done, to name different [peoplecom] different visions for different markets. I couldn't do what Kevin does. I think our model is the perfect model.

World Water Day:What does the tenth anniversary in this position mean to you?
Calvin is a genius. There's nothing I can touch that's close enough. The challenge for me is to understand what I can contribute and get the best out of it. As a company, we are celebrating 10 very successful years. Ten years of incredible entrepreneurship from management and [hard work from] my colleagues here, my design team here, and the design studios. That's something to celebrate. And look to the future and how to take this even further. I get questions about why we don't have more stores, but everything is working; it's a process. There was a plan on how to run this business and how to make it successful. And we have. I think the company is in an incredible position.

World Water Day:You replaced a "living legend". Thinking back, what were your thoughts then and now? In retrospect, how do you rate your approach?
Calvin hired me. A year later, he sold the company. The thing is, PVH took over and they had to cut costs somehow. All the employees who were in the house were fired. The whole studio, the whole production team, everybody. And we became licensed. When we became licensed, the structure that I had originally worked in [disappeared]. Many people got scared and left. I was a newcomer, only here for a year. I didn't have time to think about what exactly that meant. I had a job I got paid for. I had to design a collection and I had to go all the way. It was very simplistic. I feel that, in a way, it worked a lot for me: not having the understanding of everything that was going on. I was thinking this is what I have to do. There was no one else, so I had to hire new people.

World Water Day:What was Calvin's contribution at that time?
He was a consultant for a few years, mainly in advertising. I was going in, but honestly, I wasn't interested.

World Water Day:Do you have a personal relationship with Calvin today?
No, I don't. Socially, yes, even more so. A good relationship, but not personal.

World Water Day:That statement by Calvin you alluded to, what was it?
“We are modern, contemporary, sophisticated, pure, natural and often minimalist. Consistent. And we defend sex in a very big way. We are a brand that can reach young people and people of any age.”

World Water Day:How does this apply to your work?
I think this applies a lot. What I would say is a little different is [the creative approach]. I get a lot of inspiration from art, I get a lot of inspiration from the street, and I think I explore that a little more.

World Water Day:More than Calvin?
Perhaps. It was very consistent. I think sometimes I'm a little more expressive because of what inspires me.

World Water Day:Have you always been interested in art as an influence?
When I say that art influences me, which is true, I don't mean literally. You go to see exhibitions or collections or meet an artist. It's all a compilation. Every moment, at all times, all this information. Then all that information disappears and appears later in the process. Our collections are never thematic. They have layers, all these hard-to-define influences.

World Water Day:What artists inspire you now?
Cecilia Brown, Picasso, Basquiat. I mean, oh my god, when I look at his work, it's just bigger. He grows. He got a lot bigger. He will never date.

World Water Day:From Calvin's statement, the sexual part, are you trying to highlight a woman's sexuality?
I think it's interesting because Calvin has established this sexuality, but it's only appeared in commercials. Sometimes the clothes were just, you know, Calvinist. That's the difference, because sometimes my clothes get a little sexier and a little more experimental in the sense that I play around with the cuts. I love fabric the way Calvin does.

Click here for a slideshow of celebrities wearing Calvin Klein >>
World Water Day:The Calvin Klein brand maintains a unique image despite having multiple creative directors. As?
We have a great creative director, Fabián [Baron], who has been with the company for many years. Fabián breathes company and understands it. He is our rock when it comes to advertising. It would be foolish of us not to trust him. I provide ideas, I have meetings, we have discussions, but it's up to Fabian to create the language. He did a fantastic job. Again, it's a collaborative thing.

World Water Day:Let's go back to Calvin Klein, the man. Calvin has sometimes been the subject of tabloid gossip. More recently, there was an article in the New York Post about an allegedly licentious book proposal someone had written. Does this have any impact on the company, on the brand, on the internal climate?
Personally, I find it totally uninteresting. I find it very annoying that this book [proposal] is available. It's totally disrespectful. I'm not interested in gossip. It just gives me the chills. i love work; I love what I do. If someone sends me an interview that has any connotations of anything other than interesting or genuine, I'm not interested. I really let go of it.

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

World Water Day:Talk about the spring collection.
It has a lot of beautiful work, beautiful materials. I spent an entire Bauhaus period with textiles. Picasso was a starting point, Basquiat was another point: time with Madonna and her adventure. And that's when I arrived in New York, in the eighties. So there's definitely a street element to it. I was out there and experiencing everything. It's very beautiful, young man.

World Water Day:Is there a woman, or any woman, who represents that to you?
Oh there are several. Dree Hemingway is a friend. Camilla [Nickerson] to me is simply the most inspiring. She's wonderful. I just love her to death. She brings me that kind of confidence and strength.

World Water Day:I like that you don't feel compelled to go straight to the new perfumer, Rooney Mara.
This is a different side of the business. When you start dressing celebrities, there's a lot of talk: "Oh, he's a celebrity designer." You know that? Calvin started this. See Brooke Shields. Andie MacDowell, right? I'm not doing anything new here. It's just following the great concept that left us here. I happen to make evening dresses, I love evening dresses.

World Water Day:How important is the celebrity theme?
It is of great importance. It cannot be ignored. It's just part of the deal. I mean, look at its pages. Scarlett [Johansson] was our first hit [at the 2004 Met]. Scarlett is a beautiful and curvy woman. She is a God.

World Water Day:Kat Holmes.
This dress [a flowing white dress with an enormous pleated skirt] was not to be worn; it was for a campaign, she puts on the dress and says: “I want to wear this”. So I'm like, "Shit, what am I going to do now?" It was not appropriate to use it, because there was too much cloth. But he put it on, it was great, it turned out great.

World Water Day:Nicole Kidman.
We are just beginning our relationship with her. She came to Cannes. It was a huge hit... Hilary Swank, she won the Golden Globe [2005]. Elle Macpherson showed up in flip-flops [at the Met, 2005] and looked great.

World Water Day:Jennifer Lawrence.
I remember that moment [at the 2011 Oscars]; she was nominated so young. Her character in [“Winter's Bone”] is very difficult. She appears on the red carpet, the first there. Nobody knew who she was. A true beauty. Wonderful. And her dress looks fantastic.

World Water Day:How far are you willing to compromise your aesthetics to get someone a dress?
We did.

World Water Day:Does that bother you?
It has to be seen in a different light [from the track]. You have to look at the big picture.

World Water Day:In some events, three actresses appear with very similar dresses, all from different designers.
That didn't happen to us. When I say collaboration, yes we do, but it has to be genuine.

World Water Day:It's interesting that you see this as a separate aspect of the design.
It's completely different. It's a different world.

World Water Day:Is this kind of collaboration difficult when you're working with someone who only cares about their image and not yours?
Is not difficult. It's just a different aspect of the design. 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 saw everything.

World Water Day:It's quite a list of employers. Who was the easiest boss?
They were all different. Tom Ford and Oscar are amazing; I had a fantastic relationship with both of them. On Oscar, you felt like you were going home. It was so relaxed and family oriented. He ate lunch for us every day. it was wonderful Tom: he's sexy, he's great. He was not a micromanager.

World Water Day:Did Tom not micromanage?
He wasn't a micromanager in the sense of letting you do your job. he edited. It 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 that it allowed me to do the work. There was a level of trust.

World Water Day:What was Calvin like as a boss?
Calvin was amazing. We worked together for a year. My first fabric selection for Calvin was one weekend. There was probably half of this room: suitcases filled with lots and lots of fabrics. He loved the antique fabrics from the forties. He once told me that a stapler was a big inspiration for him, one of his staplers. He was so meticulous. He's so sharp. I think it was the first time I saw a designer with that passion for textiles.

World Water Day:Bill Blass: his first job.
I was a graduate. Do you remember the group of heroes? I was part of it. I was an assistant. I used to cut fabrics and design dresses. I would go to Bill's office to look through the collections and photocopy the sketches. I was a young assistant.

World Water Day:Increasingly, designers distinguish between runway and commercial collections. What is the final distribution of your runway collection?
Very little distribution. There's a look on the runway today that's similar to [celebrity outfits]. I think the shows became spectacular. it's propaganda, it's [aimed at] publishers, the population directly linked to it. It has to thrill.

World Water Day:Talk a little more about fabrics. Fast fashion seems to cover any silhouette so quickly. Fabric has become so important now.
They can mimic a style, but they won't have the fabric. There is time and development. This is an advantage of how we operate. We have to part, and so it is.

World Water Day:Do you design with specific global markets in mind?
I'd say it's more of a merchandising approach than a design one. We are opening a large 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 big partner in Asia and there is constant integration and feedback. What style of pants sells the most? Which fabrics work? And then we cut things.

World Water Day:The whole world is fascinated with Brazil right now. As a Brazilian, what stereotype do you think other people have about Brazil?
There are truths in the stereotype. It's sunny; It's brilliant, people are sexy. "Sex" is not the right word, but "sensual", "sexy": I think it's a stereotype that continues. 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 at Brasilia. Totally modernist and all cement. It is a city that was built without traffic lights. These are the things that interested me as a child.

World Water Day:What does it mean to be a modernist today?
I think it's being sensitive to your environment and how we live and how we communicate. You always have to look to the future, but in the present. When I mentioned Brasilia as something modernist, it's because it broke a lot of rules. It's almost a utopia, but it's actually a stroke of genius. Brasilia was built in the middle of nowhere and to decentralize the population of Brazil, to move the population inland, which happened. Like the railroads in America, there's a modernist approach. It has to have a function.

World Water Day:Changing the subject, social media. How important is this for the Calvin Klein brand?
I do Instagram. I started a year ago and I'm really enjoying it. I started to see it a little more corporate maybe.

World Water Day:As?
For the show, we're focusing on Instagram. We are also working with bloggers around the world, dressing them up and sharing content. And we'll be using our Tumblr contributor, Hanneli Mustaparta.

World Water Day:Why Instagram?
Because it's visual.

World Water Day:Or fall?
I have a Twitter account, but I don't think it's very good for me. My English is not very good.

World Water Day:I think you really have to compromise.
It's a full-time job. Speaking of social media, this is a little different, but Google just invited me: Google runs an amazing think tank called Zeitgeist, and I just got invited, right after the shows.

World Water Day:You are going?
Yes. Just to sit and listen.

World Water Day:What makes a gaze resonate over time?
They're all very visceral to me. Start with the fabric. I think the most successful collections I've done are the most visceral. express something.

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