Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Grey power: Francisco Costa keeps his end up at Calvin Klein

An antiemitic should be de rigueur in the handbag of anyone contemplating covering a fashion season. But not solely due to the fact that an inevitable percentage of the clothes that they will see are bound to make them feel sick. Being large, contained gatherings, fashion shows tend to work like petri dishes for bugs, a particularly bad situation of course in winter and notably, in weather as cold as it has been in New York. After standing around in the week's freezing temperatures many showgoers - and show workers - were bound to get sick by week's end. In the early AM of Thursday, in spite of 3000mgs of vitamin C a day, I joined their ranks - and lost 24 hours (and a day's shows) recovering.

I have since learned that a gastric flu had been circulating around late January's haute couture shows in Paris. Assuming at first that it food poisoning, I pressed-on (and no doubt, further circulated the bug). In my dazed state on Thursday, I had to ditch the first Calvin Klein press showing to head back to my hotel at one stage, but managed to make it to the second - which is mostly for buyers. I did not want to miss this show - and am glad that I didn't because it proved one of the highlights of New York fashion week.

Like some of the week's best collections, the Calvin Klein FW0708 show has a distinctly "urban" feel.

Designed by Brazilian-born creative director Francisco Costa, it's delivered in a near all-grey palette shot with flashes of azure blue - one of the most striking dresses, a skintight, bustier dress with moulded, scooped bodice.

The show notes are littered with the word "molded" and it applies to a litany of seamwork that contours Costa's jackets, dresses and tunics, defining the silhouette.

One sleeveless slate grey wool dress looks almost moulded to the body.

There is also much of this 'triple-spliced' torso that we're seeing in a few collections - delivered via three layers and usually involving some kind of cropped jacket or coat. In Costa's case it's either a cropped, funnel-necked bolero - or funnel-necked, chunky cable knit sweater - layered over a longer tunic, jacket or shirt and either trousers or a pencil skirt. If the next New York winter is as cold as the current one, Costa's hip-hugging silk knit pencil skirts won't be warm - but they'll look chic.

Trousers are gently tapered, yet full-legged, with a sharp knife pleat - one pair in a shiny, metal-look silk-wool pique with stirrup at the foot The stirrup pant is a nod to retro ski gear - and pops up quite a bit throughout the week.

A lean, clean, minimalist machine, the collection is so good you can't help wishing that Costa didn't have a far greater design hand on all the various Calvin Klein brand extensions. Fact is, Costa is just a hired gun to helm the women's collection, with separate designers for menswear and the plethora of licensees.

We had a quick chat right after the show:

So, tell me about the starting point of the collection?
Francisco Costa: I wanted something very New York. I wanted to create a much more 'woman' silhouette.

What do you mean by very 'New York'?
Much more sporty, perhaps a little more practical, a little more career, urban... all those things. And then (the 1960 film) Butterfield 8 was kind of the essence of who this person was. But of course not literally, right? You can imagine this type of woman going to work, very sexy, put together, but also looking through a window and imagining herself in different situations, being this and being that. But very controlled.

There was a lot of moulding, which was also in fact in your summer collection, with all the contoured seamwork. In a way it was almost medieval.
There was a sporty, active sort of feel to it. I was very inspired by sort of '40s skiing outfits.

That's interesting - so was Narciso Rodriguez.
The fabric was so much part of it. The fabric was so like the essence of that.

Is Calvin Klein [who sold the company] a hard act to follow?
Yeah, the legacy is hard but...

Especially considering he's still alive.
Right, yeah, I mean, I just hope I never disappoint him.

Yeah, because it's like, you know, it's a great house, it's a great name. I have to keep up the standards.

It's an interesting time in fashion, with some designers obviously happy to work for existing brand names and others who are saying no to big design roles within large companies. Are you ever planning to do your own line?
I have no plans.

What is the biggest challenge for a designer working inside a large corporate structure such as Calvin Klein, where it's not actually your company but it has your name on the collection?
I think we have passed a lot of challenges. I think it's much more of... it's just to keep it up really. But I think every designer has that challenge.

Although I note you are billed as creative director, you in fact have no creative control over the other myriad brand extensions of the Calvin Klein name. Is that not confusing?
Yeah... it's how our company is operated. I'm not a power freak.

You're not a Tom Ford you mean?
No, I think it's like... you know, I do what I do. I do [it in] such a way and I'm comfortable with it and that's how the company operates.

You don't think that design control is essential to brand DNA?
I think, you know, [there are] different areas of companies, different sorts of control, different sorts of power. I think I lead quite a lot. I set up the standards and everything sort of gets referred to what I do but I don't have the need to be [in] every single bit of control, because there are other people who can do that better than I do.

In Australia for example, Calvin Klein womens underwear is very successful, but it's very bright, very lacy. I imagine that the kind of womens underwear that you would design, would be rather different.
Yeah, absolutely, but also we wanted to look for the markets. This is a brand, it's a brand house, and you look for the market. If you want to buy yellow... we're going to sell yellow to you. And it's an American thing. There's an Americanism to it. It's the modernity of ... really great business because that's the essence of it. You know what I mean? So, that's pretty much what it is. It's business. It's a great setup the way it is.

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