“I’ve seduced the world with casual elegance.”
Calvin Klein gets out of a Mercedes and goes into an Italian restaurant downtown. He is dressed in dark grey and is wearing a crew-necked pullover without a shirt underneath. He is very thin and lanky. When he speaks, he moves his long, thin hands. His face is also thin, and his nose and eyes are very sharp and alert. He speaks quite slowly and his voice has no particular affectations. He orders a simple meal – salad, boiled fish, and sorbet. He drinks non-sparkling natural water.
Next week you are opening a shop in Paris on Avenue Montaigne. In a few months, you will also launch a shop in the Red Square in Moscow. What is behind this expansion?
Three years ago we realized we had achieved the success needed to expand to the rest of the world. First we sold our fragrances, which saw great success. They were really popular just about everywhere, and this was a sign that the time had come to open clothing stores as well.
What is your impression of Moscow?
I wouldn’t have believed this would have been possible seven or eight years ago. I have to confess that I hope to open a Calvin Klein shop or Calvin Klein Jeans shop in all of the most important cities in the world. The market has changed a lot, and now there is strong demand for our products. I would say that our style has become more of an international style than an American style.
Can you describe this style in a few words?
Minimalist, modern, pure, no-frills, sexy, and sensual. A luxurious casual elegance. I think people like and are interested in this today.
Well it’s almost the year 2000. How do you think people will dress in the future?
I am not a prophet, but if I try to transport myself to the year 2000, I think women will want clothes in which they can work well and move well, and that can go from day to evening. Versatile clothing. Versatile because life is busier and women have less time to think about and try on clothing. I imagine a new kind of freedom for men that goes a bit beyond classic elegance. Lighter clothing, for example, t-shirts under jackets or sports jackets and turtleneck sweaters. The same goes for the home. People are working more and more from home with fax machines, telephones, and computers, and the aesthetic of the home needs to be cleaner, more modern, luxurious and comfortable at the same time. Today I’m designing for homes. I see the future there.
Why is American style so popular from China to Brazil to Italy to Russia?
Well, I am an American born in New York, a city of eighteen million people from all over the world with many different influences. I am influenced by New York and this goes into my work. I think that people all over the world want the same things – to be beautiful, elegant, and sexy.
Could you describe your typical work day?
I get to the office early in the morning. I love to work and especially the work I do. In the evening I spend time with family or friends. I make time every day to do some exercise. I organise my time to be able to focus on diet and exercise. Being in shape is very important and my clothes reflect this. Many people want to be healthy and look good and they watch their diet and work out.
Do you follow a special diet?
I pay a lot of attention to what I eat. I eat fresh foods – a lot of fish and chicken. I don’t drink, and I haven’t smoked in years. I have to say that I’m very interested in health.
How do you choose your employees?
I look at their creativity, originality, and energy. Those who aren’t conformists and that think and work like me. I work in a team and personal chemistry is really important. We have to work fast because there is a lot of competition.
Is it true that you wear bespoke suits from England?
Not any longer. I invented the men’s line so I could wear me. I choose colours, fabrics, and things I’d like to have. Before, I went to London to get classic suits. Now I wear lighter, more elegant, and tighter-fitting fabrics.
Is it true that you don’t like to have a lot of objects around and that you love homes with a lot of space?
Absolutely. Space in New York is an absolute luxury. Everything looks better in a larger space with fewer things. My Madison Avenue shop was created with an atmosphere of space, silence, and without distractions for customers. And beautiful light.
How many houses do you have?
I have a new apartment in New York that I bought and that I’m renovating, and a house in East Hampton on the ocean. I don’t need any more than that. They would require work and stress that I don’t want.
When you aren’t working, what do you do?
I go to my house in East Hampton whenever I can, and when I’m in New York, I go to the theatre, painting exhibitions, or I go out with my friends. I do the things New York has to offer.
What is the key to your long-lasting success?
I think I have a point of view I believe in, and this is the key factor in my success. From a business point of view, I have a strategy, I develop it very carefully, and then I maintain that strategy.
Are you a good father to your daughter?
I hope so. I try to be. Maybe I didn’t spend enough time with her when she was little. But we are very close, and I am so proud of her. She has been very inspirational for me and for my work. She works in television and is very happy. She is not interested in fashion.
You are said to be a loyal friend. Who are some of your best friends?
Friendships are very important in the best and worst moments of life. I feel like our friendships and our families are the important things in life. More than love.
What are your values?
Honesty, sincerity, reliability, hard work, and a spirit of friendship.
What kind of advice would you give to a young person who wants to break into the world of fashion?
He needs to know what he wants to do. He needs to believe in himself. It is hard work. He needs to know how to see opportunity, be flexible, and be ready to adapt to change. And never fear believing in himself. To have faith.
11 May, 1997