STUDIO VISITS: ANA KHOURI

Sweater by Celine, All Jewelry by Ana Khouri

Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Hair and Makeup by Agata Helena | Interview by Benjamin Price

Ana Khouri spent her formative years between her native Brazil and the United States. First studying sculpture in Sao Paulo, Khouri later moved to New York attaining degrees from Parsons School of Design and the Gemological Institute of America. Upon completing her education in New York, Khouri traveled to London to attend Central Saint Martins, before ultimately returning to New York to set up her studio practice. For Khouri, designing jewelry is about the myriad of ways that a piece can take shape on its wearer, and the balance the work creates with the body. Ana’s designs accentuate the natural elegance and organic lines of the exquisite materials that she utilizes, and her work’s timeless quality transcends simple jewelry design into an ethereal world. Inspired by the magic of the earth and the cosmos, Khouri’s work evokes the vast majesty of nature as a whole.

What was your motivation to pursue a career in jewelry design?

While still in art school, I had a show where I presented sculptures hanging from bodies. After the show, I received an order for ten pieces to be adapted and worn as jewelry. From that moment, it triggered a significant interest in jewelry making and led me to begin studying jewelry right after I graduated in 2004.

How did your formative years in Brazil affect your life and your design ethos? Did your parents – one an engineer, and one a pianist and teacher – influence your work and your creative career path?

Yes, absolutely. I grew up between beauty and art shaping my sensibility but always having functionality in mind. Later on, after graduation, I created sculptures for many years, which is how my jewelry business first began—it was all about creating the personal connection between sculpture and body lines.

Who is the “Ana Khouri” woman and how has she evolved over time? Is there a particular person whom you feel embodies your brand identity?

The Ana Khouri woman has an interest in or comes from the art world and values self expression through accessories. My clients usually have a uniqueness about them, something that is inherently their own. They are artistic, intelligent, inspirational and strong women who connect to my world, ideas, and work.

How do you begin your creative process when designing each new collection?

My idea of jewelry goes beyond the intended purpose of ornamentation, entering more into the realms of art and sculpture. The designs are about the myriad of ways that a piece can take shape by wearing it, and the balance the work creates with the wearer’s body. I value simplicity above all else. Simplicity in composition and in motivation, as it is really the ultimate luxury. I focus on one-of- a-kind designs and limited edition pieces. My overall approach is born from the belief that jewelry has the ability to help create a deep connection with the wearer.

The history of jewelry goes back millenia and has been associated with love, war, class, magic and everything in between—how does your brand take this history into account in the process of design?

Our brand takes history into account through art in different forms. For instance, a lot of my inspiration in terms of art and sculpture come from artists like Louise Bourgeois, Calder, and Sera who have inspired me to look at shapes in relation to space and movement. But most of all, I think that jewelry should always be associated with one’s personal history. I don’t simply want these pieces to adorn, or to stand alone as beautiful objects; I want my designs to evoke their connection to space, its vastness, its majesty, yet also relate to one’s personal history.

Is technology presently shaping jewelry design (production, form or function) and how do you foresee its role affecting jewelry design in the future?

For me, the process has consistently stayed the same. The way I start every piece is still the same for both sculpture and jewelry. I start by molding them by hand; it is a very intuitive and intimate process for me. I work on making the overall piece and then find a way to add functionality. The process of design is as important as the result. I normally spend up to six months on each design.

What can you tell us of your upcoming projects and collections? What direction is your brand going into for 2018?

I focus 50% of my time on unique pieces for personal clients, which is what I love doing most. The rest of my time goes to designing the edition pieces that you can find on the “specialty/multi brand“ stores we choose to work with like Dover Street Market, Barneys, and Net-a-Porter to name a few. We have two special collaborations lined up for 2018 that I am very excited about. I feel very challenged in my work and that excites me more than anything.

 

For more information visit anakhouri.com

LUKE EDWARD HALL

Charmingly-maximal, Luke Edward Hall’s whimsical take on interiors offers an escape from the mundane white box of minimalism.

Photography by Wikkie Hermkens | Styling by Sonny Groo | Interview by Dustin Mansyur
Full look by Burberry 

Peruse through Luke Edward Hall’s instagram feed, and one will find a story vibrantlylayered in color-clad interiors, candy-colored hues of hand painted ceramics and drawings, and peppered with images documenting the 27-year-old creative’s quixotic travels. Stylishly dandy and tousle-haired, Hall curates a dreamy world as if seen through the most decadent shade of millennial pink lenses. A visit to his North London studio enforces the idea, with it’s bubblegum-painted walls and scatter of colorful tools and materials strewn across his work table. Daring fabric remnants, bouquets of colored pencils and brushes sprout charmingly in a collection of vintage mugs and vases, vintage photographs, magazine clippings, and the occasional tchotchke clutter the artist’s space like a decorated nest. In the center, a spot is cleared away, just big enough to entertain a drawing in progress.

Hall has been dubbed by Vogue.com as the ‘interior design world’s wunderkind’, a hefty seal of approval for a budding artist and designer. With a variety of blue-chip collaborations with companies like Burberry, Drakes, and Stubbs & Wootton already in his portfolio, Hall is positioned thoughtfully for longevity. His idyllic watercolor brush strokes, and gestural, simplified drawings elicit an understanding of the same subtleties of Matisse or Picasso’s more expressionistic works, while an array of products he’s created in-house suggests similar branding sensibilities of such design heavyweights as Jonathan Adler or Kelly Wearstler. The romance exists in the visual language Hall uses to couple his creative vision with commercial potential, resulting in the fanciful prism of his nostalgia inspired work.

Here IRIS Covet Book offers a glimpse into the auspicious world of Luke Edward Hall.

‘Gervase by the Pool’, 2017 (has been sold)

You actually studied menswear at Central Saint Martins before you established your studio in 2015. Your career has really blossomed as an artist, but also as a designer of objects. What influenced your decision, or what shifted your focus, I should say rather, post-graduation, so that you went down this career path as opposed to choosing to stay in men’s wear design?

I always had an interest in antiques and interiors as well as fashion. While I was studying menswear, I was also selling antiques online. When I graduated I met an interior designer in London, whose style I really admired. So I ended up going to work for him, and that’s how I got more involved with interiors. It wasn’t something that I decided, it happened quite naturally.

Then what helped you to make the decision to venture out on your own after working with that architect that you mentioned?

I always knew that I wanted to have my own thing. When I was working full time, I started designing fabrics. I began putting more work up online, and I started doing much more drawing. Then, eventually, I got a few commissions — enough that allowed me to set my own thing up. I worked quite hard to get my work out there, so that I could be able to go out on my own.

What avenues did you pursue to increase your exposure?

Obviously, I’ve had a lot of work up on Instagram from the beginning. But, early on, I started making products like cushions, fabrics, and prints of my work. I had a lot of product that I could sell. I just tried to make sure that I had my work out there as much as I could. Eventually it began being published in magazines.

Do you do all of your fabrics in-house or are you licensing your designs through a fabric company?

It’s full-time in-house. Coming from a fashion and interiors background, I always appreciated good fabric. After I sketch up the design, I’ll print them out and work with a factory to produce them in very small runs to be used in my cushions and other products.

Can you describe what your studio’s like? Do you share space with others? What is it like when you are there?

I work with my friends in an art gallery where I have a space in the back. It’s really nice because it’s very close to where I live, five minutes away. I have this corner of a room that I’ve painted pink. It’s where I work on all of my projects.

What’s a typical day in the workroom like for you?

I go in every day because there are lots of new things happening. I always have meetings and a variety of projects to work on. Sometimes I’m working on foreign accounts, sometimes I’m drawing, other times I’m painting pottery or sourcing fabrics.

Voluta and Luca Cushion by Luke Edward Hall

You describe your aesthetic as being informed by a love of history, an appreciation of beauty, and a sense of playfulness. Do you have any specific historical influences that you find inspiring from which you pull inspiration?

I draw inspiration from history because often I’m inspired by the stories. I love looking back at ancient Greek myths and legends, also English folklore. I love reading about times in history, like the 1920s and ‘30s, especially in London. I’m quite nostalgic.

Your work is very sophisticated. How do you draw the line between playfulness and something that’s considered kitsch?

The thing is, I do like a little bit of kitsch, but I don’t want what I do to be so gaudy and outrageously mad that it becomes off-putting. I think you can be playful with color and print without sacrificing elegance and sophistication, which is a nice balance for interiors. I love playing with tradition or history, and trying to achieve the balance of pairing something very old with something very new. Curating the right pieces together is always a fun process.

I feel like today people consider minimalism and modern design as being somewhat synonymous, especially when we’re talking about interior spaces. Your approach is anything but minimal and yet reads as modern. Do you think there is a shift in the consumer market towards a more “decorated” approach?

There’s a general shift toward people being more interested in a more maximal approach, which I think there’s lots of reasons for that. Like with fashion, things come in cycles. I don’t really think of my lifestyle as maximal…it’s more that I just like being surrounded by my “stuff ”. I like having lots of color and pattern, and that look is typically classified as maximalism. The thing with maximalism in the interiors I like, is that it offers a little bit of a fantasy. I guess that’s why I look at the past, as well. I like the idea of creating something magical into which you can escape. The world we live in at the moment is quite grim at times. I think that’s partly why more people are taking to this trend because perhaps they need an escape from the everyday as opposed to living in a white box.

Based on your Instagram, it appears as though you travel a great deal. Is it a source of inspiration as well?

Travel is a huge source of inspiration. Italy is a really inspiring place for me to visit and work; I go there a lot and bring inspiration back. I always feel refreshed after going to the countryside in England because I find the city to be quite intense. Travel for me is just as important as my studio days. When I travel, I end up working every day, and always get re-inspired by the many things I come across.

You’ve collaborated with so many high profile companies already across several different luxury consumer markets, Burberry, Drakes, Christie’s, Stubbs and Wootton, and even Samsung, what have been some of your favorite collaborations to work on and why?

They’ve all been great for their own reasons. I only collaborate when it feels like the right fit. It has to be something that I feel really passionate about and connected with. Burberry is an amazing company to collaborate with because their reach is worldwide. It was very exciting when that opportunity happened. I also have always loved Stubbs and Wootton, so it was really fun to work with them to turn my drawings into embroideries for their slippers. Drakes was also a great collaboration that gave me the opportunity to see my drawings on silk for ties and scarves. It’s a great experience working with other people when they do something really well. It allows me to add my touch to it, and we come together and create something beautiful.

Luke Edward Hall x The Store ‘Face Bowl’ (available from The Store x Soho House Berlin and The Store x Soho Farmhouse)

Vases From Left: Lemons, 2016, Flower Prince, 2017 (Personal Collection)

You’re working on many different projects that span different disciplines, do you do all the your own business development or do you work with an agent?

It’s sort of a mixture. I don’t employ anyone. I just work by myself. I have an agent for Europe and they get me more illustration jobs. Most of the work comes to me, though. If the project involves working with a bigger company, I may hire someone short-term if needed, and I have relationships with vendors to produce what needs to be done.

I feel like drawing, itself, is such pure, analog art form. Now, we’re living in a post-digital world, all connected to a screen, advertising ourselves online on whatever platform we can. Do you think that social media and the Internet are simply just an extension of the artist’s tool kit?

I don’t think everyone has to engage in social media. I completely appreciate the people being like, “Oh, I’m not doing it. I’m not doing Instagram,” and that’s totally fine. For me, I like having a visual diary to see and process what I’m working on. I’ve always liked working on blogs and documenting what I’m doing. I’ve received lots of work through Instagram. When I got my first big job, which was for the Parker Palm Springs, it came from Instagram. So I owe a lot to it really, because it’s helped me. If you don’t need it, fine, but it can definitely be a great tool. If you can get greater exposure, then I think, why not make the most of it?

Warhol said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” You have an ecommerce portal on your website, you also have 1stDibs shop, and you did a pop-up shop last year. I’m curious what entrepreneurship means to you. How do you maintain the balance between art and commerce, being commercial without sacrificing your vision?

I’ve always been fascinated by retail. And while I like drawing and painting, I also like making products. When I first started selling antiques online, I’d go buy old antiques and restore them for resale on 1stDibs. I love graphic design and the process of branding things, so creating a variety of products with my artwork was natural. Now, I’m thinking about doing a little exhibition next year, so I’m setting aside time to work on those pieces. Maybe people think, “Oh, well, you’re not a real artist, you’re more of a designer.” I don’t really mind what label I’ve got. I think you can have all of these worlds that fit together, and I quite enjoy doing it.

I saw images online of your pop-up shop. Do you ever think you’ll venture into doing a little shop, a flagship store, for all your creations to live within?

At some point, I will probably do some shop type of thing. The thing is that at the moment I’m doing one-off pieces. I almost went down the route doing more products, but I’m now fixating more on hand-made ceramics, which are hand-painted and all one-off pieces. During the holiday season, I make more pieces and products for online and pop-ups. Right now my focus is on projects like the exhibition next year, which is going to be drawings, prints, and ceramics.

Do you have any advice that you might give to a young person considering to choose this as a career path?

Make sure you feel it pulling your heart; be brave. Go for it and believe in yourself. When something is completely yours, I think people always pick up on that. So do what makes you happy, because that’s what people respond to. You need to couple that with being on it as a business, thinking about social media, and having a bit of a strategy to give you direction. I do think you do need to have both sides – a creative side and a business side – in order to make it a success.

You’ve worked on many of amazing projects and I’m sure you only want more, but what do you envision for yourself in your future?

That’s the thing. I don’t actually have a plan. I’ve got so many exciting stuff happening, like the exhibition next year, and I’m going to carry on doing more interior projects. I’ve only been doing it for two years by myself so there’s still a lot that I want to do. I’d love to do a book and I like the idea you have, maybe, opening some sort of showroom. But for now I’m also just playing it by ear. I’m happy to just let things happen.For more information visit lukeedwardhall.com

IRIS VAN HERPEN


Iris Van Herpen, Paris, France, 2017

At the intersection of science, art, heritage craft, and fashion lies a singular point, the inimitable and pioneering couturier, Iris Van Herpen. Known for seamlessly blending lazer-cut fabrics, 3-D printing technology, cutting edge fabrics, and haute couture hand-work, Van Herpen’s work is a summation of the old world and the new.

Photography by Maya Fuhr @ The Canvas Agency | Interview by Benjamin Price
All clothing (not including models’ own) Iris Van Herpen Couture

Untitled I, Paris France, 2017

Amid the canals and stone-paved streets of Amsterdam lies a haute couture atelier led by a woman who is equal parts scientist, architect, artist, dancer, and designer. Iris Van Herpen sits at the helm, diving deep into different multi-disciplinary worlds to push fashion design further into the future. She is known as one of the most innovative and pioneering fashion designers in the world. Through her experimentation with different materials and collaborations, Van Herpen has created fantastic, awe-inspiring pieces that have defied previous ideas of what fashion can be.

At first glance, Van Herpen’s iconic designs look like sinuous creatures from mysterious planets, chemical reactions, waterfalls frozen in time, and skins of unknown species – but in reality they are the results of copious research, experimentation, and countless hours of handwork. The fusion of technology and heritage craft work is what makes Van Herpen’s designs so unique. From the initial research stage to the fashion show presentations, every iota of information is explored and disseminated to produce magical worlds that hold a mirror to our own reality of climate change, space travel, and the global stage.

Iris sat down with me, thousands of miles away in her studio, speaking through a computer screen – our conversation punctuated by the atelier cat running across the keyboard. The studio team draped, melted, 3D printed, and slice through materials for the upcoming couture collection in the background. Here is our exclusive interview with Iris Van Herpen and Iris Covet Book.


Guadalupe, Paris, France, 2017

What does a typical day look like in the Iris Van Herpen studios?

It really depends on what we are working on… right now we are working on the new collection. There is a lot of experimenting and creating with new materials. I’m a bit in-between my own space where I do design work, guide the process, and give feedback to the team, then going to meetings with different collaborators for certain projects. The atelier is filled with people with fashion backgrounds and people from other disciplines.

I was going to ask if you have sculptors, plaster specialists, or mold-makers in studio. Traditional fashion labels have a lot of draping and patternmaking, but I was wondering if there are physicists and artists, etc…

I work with people outside of the fashion world a lot such as architects, scientists, or other artists. It is sort of spontaneous. I won’t have them here all the time; it’s a day here and a day there with different disciplines, and sometimes I will go to their studio.

In the past, what has been one of your most fruitful collaborations?

One that is very special to me is my work with Philip Beesley who is an architect and artist from Toronto, and I’ve been working with him for four or five years now. Our process has become very intertwined… like a friendship. He’s always exploring with his team, and we share a lot of the process and experimentation together. If I find a new material, then I’ll send it to him and the other way around. So, it’s really like a collective intelligence there, which is a nice way of sharing. On a much more personal level, I would say that my work with choreographer Benjamin Millepied was special because I come from a dance background. I found huge inspiration in the work he does and the way he works; it was very special to see our worlds coming together.

Looking at your designs, your earlier work specifically, it appears like there is conflict between movement and form. How does your understanding and love of movement and the materiality that you’re using work together?

Well, dance is where I learned how to transform my own body, but also how to use the space around me. In the early years, I was questioning not only how to design for the body, but also discovering the space around it and how it can be transformed. That was like principal research, which I’m still doing, but it became more sentimental along the way – maybe because dance is still part of my work, but it has grown bigger with art, architecture, and even scientific collaboration. I have just expanded my focus, and therefore become more reliant on the materials I use to express the relationship between body and space.


Henry (Film Strip), Paris, France, 2017


Henry, Paris, France, 2017

Speaking of materiality, there’s a material library here in New York City that has every new material that you can think of. Every time a new one is created they send it to the library to be catalogued. Do you use spaces like that to gain inspiration or do you have custom materials that you make?

In the first years of the studio, I would find materials and then use them in my own way. By now, the process is a little bit more personal and elaborative. Mostly we don’t use the material as it is. We either develop a new material, sometimes as the result of a collaboration, or we use existing materials that we then transform into new hybrids. So, a big part of the design process actually depends on the material design. We start developing the techniques and materials and I start draping – where in the beginning I would just shop for the right material and then drape. It’s evolved over time.

I want to now switch gears and talk about the conceptual inspiration of the collection. When you begin researching, what sparks your interest? Is it something small or something more meta such as an intangible theory?

Well, it can be both actually. I’m thinking of [the collection] “Micro” where we explored microscopic structures that I found inspiring. Everything around us, like my own body and materials surrounding me on a micro level. Then there are collections like “Magnetic Motion” which was inspired by the conversations I had with scientists about really big subjects like parallel universes and the whole perception of life, which was a lot more philosophical. Sometimes it’s simply in the material that is next to me, and sometimes it’s a super inspiring theory that changes my way of looking at life.

Growing up, were you very interested in studying nature and science?

Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in a very small little village next to the water. So, nature was really part of my youth; it shaped me. My parents stimulated my interest in the arts, so nature and art together were an integral part of my growing up. I think it’s important to understand, or at least appreciate, how the world works around you and the importance of nature.

How do you see your design reacting to global warming and these heightened more chaotic political spheres?

Well, I think there are two paths in my work: one of them is within the material and technique, and the other is looking at the materials as part of the process of sustainability, but it’s not something I want to communicate. Sustainability has become a PR tool, and I personally find that it is happening too much. For me, it is a natural focus because we want to move forward and still live on this planet in 20 years. I don’t think it should be the central message because it can easily become everything you do, and as an artist or fashion designer, I think a specific environmental issue isn’t a long-term vision. It’s part of the process, but the message that I want to communicate is much bigger than that. I believe that in the long term fashion will change slowly. The materials we use and the way we use them will become better and more sustainable. I hope to help a little bit there, but it’s not something I can do on my own.


Untitled II, Paris France, 2017

Do you think that fashion – because it is one of the top polluting industries in the world – will change in the future? How do you hope consumer relations will change?

I think a very big step in this would be that the whole system becomes more personal again and less globalized. The problem is that most things are made in bulk, and more than half of everything that is being made is not being bought. I believe that the future will be technology that will make the process more personal again because I think through technology there is more direct communication possible between customer and designer. If we go to smaller productions again, we can reduce half of the waste because we’ll start making what people actually need rather than making twice as much. Hopefully we can begin utilizing the materials that can be 100% reused again like with 3-D printing. These are the two big steps that need to be made, and it will take awhile.

Well, speaking of technique and new technology I think that a lot of the interest in your early work was your use of techniques like laser cutting and 3D printing which were not as normalized as they are now. How do you foresee these two worlds of technological futurism and craft heritage melding?

I see the diversity of new techniques and new tools as equal to my hands, and I would not use one over the other: it’s a hybrid between them. For me craftsmanship is as valuable and as important as the newer techniques that I work with. I noticed that by using various techniques we can actually improve the others. Sometimes we want to work on a piece that we simply cannot make by hand, and a 3D printer can inspire the process where we are actually able to make it by hand. So, it’s really interesting how the knowledge from one goes into the other, and I think in the beginning the processes were quite separated. I would work on 3D printed garment, and I would work on a handcrafted garment, but now we have blended the processes. In one dress there can be 3D printing, laser cutting, hand molding, and stitching all in one and no one is able to see the differences anymore; I think that is very beautiful. In the end it is not about the technique behind it anymore, but about the freedom to combine different techniques. I’m able to go into the absolute maximum of intricacy if I’m not limited by one technique because every technique has its possibilities and its limitations.

I think that the future is – I don’t want to say cyborgs – but humans and computer technology coming together to create. You can see that in your fashion shows, which have been very viscerally engaging and surreal. Where does that inspiration come from? Does it come from your concepts? What does this theatrical element add to the show?

It’s really part of my process. I try to translate the energy of the experimentation that I feel from the work into the collection. When I started working on Aeriform I had my collaborators performance in mind, and really working with the empty gravitational aspect of their work, and the way of working that conflict together. So, I work to make those elements the base of designing the garments, while keeping the whole performance alive. Some shows are very minimal in their setting because the inspiration comes from something physical like an artist or work of art, and I want to show people my process and concept. Sometimes the collection comes from a completely different world, and I let the collection be itself.


Chen Chen, Paris France, 2017

You have worked with Bjork, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Tilda Swinton; do you feel the context of your work changes with the visibility and the popularity of these artists?

Well, I guess it connects to different people. They are very specific identities. They all created their own worlds, their own system, and fan bases. The body itself is my source of integration, and these people bringing it into their own world and their own vision creates a new perspective of my work. I think it’s very important because I don’t want my work to be this very controlled and linear thing.

In reference to the “worlds” that you design into, do you often build worlds in your mind when designing?

Not really to be honest. My interest is in the here-and-now because the inspirations that’s translated into my work comes from architecture, art, or things that I see around me. To me, the world we live in is actually so fascinating and it has so many sides. So, I want to look at different perspectives. Some people think I’m inspired by science fiction, but I think the world we live in is magical. It’s really more like zooming in and zooming out – focused on where I am at this point.

Magical and terrifying all at once.

Yeah, yeah, it has everything in it.

In the past you have referenced your work as “New Couture”, what does that mean to you?

It’s a place where innovation is possible. It’s a place where craftsmanship is possible. To me, it’s a place that has real humanity and personality in the work, and it has its place in the digital age and in the digital transformation that we are going through. To me, it’s really about finding the relationship between the world we come from and the world we’re going to. We have to learn how to use all of these great tools in combination with our humanity. I think those tools can be used to create art and beauty, not just functional technology to make our lives quicker and easier.

That’s beautiful. I think that we are at crossroads of so much negativity in politics and in nature, but the world also has a lot of positivity and beauty. What do you want to say to the world as a designer, as an artist?

I think fashion is not only a form of art, but also a place of innovation and progress. I think it is important that we we start collaborating with science and art because all of these disciplines have to change. If we talk about sustainability and moving forward, design is needed everywhere, and I don’t think we’re making progress if we keep on only focusing on one method of thinking. I think disciplines have to cross over to create a collective intelligence to direct the sustainability of design. We’re never going do it on our own. I think that one of the bigger messages behind my work is that the power of collaboration will affect future change.


Francesca, Paris, France, 2017

Makeup by Jay Kwan | Special Thanks to Fanny Moal @ Karla Otto Paris
For more information visit irisvanherpen.com

CALVIN KLEIN

A legend, an icon, and an American champion of minimalism; Calvin Klein tells all to renowned writer George Wayne about his rise from growing up in the Bronx to becoming an international brand.


Interview by George Wayne | All Images Courtesy of KCD Worldwide and Rizzoli
© Steven Klein

He was born Calvin Richard Klein, a Hungarian-Jewish spawn out of the Bronx, New York in the 1940’s. This, the very same Calvin Klein, who was also the college dropout, after failing to graduate from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. And whose father owned a grocery store in Harlem and gave him that first $10,000 loan in 1968 to start his forever iconic fashion brand – Calvin Klein.

The fact that this All-American icon long sold his fashion business more than 14 years ago and no longer has any involvement with the brand Calvin Klein whatsoever is all in-consequential. For he still remains, to this day, that legendary force majeure! The real Calvin Klein remains that indispensable, and unequivocal – and undeniable master of our popular culture, and hence our zeitgeist!!

The debut of his coffee-table photo book CALVIN KLEIN this September will be an immediate collectible and the closest thing this notorious perfectionist and privacy obsessed legend will be willing to parse as a quasi-memoir or autobiography. As such it was very much a special and joyous moment for this particular arbiter to now be able to declare that the tête-à-tête that follows with Calvin Klein is a seminal moment. It was sheer master-class and brimming with CK revelations galore!

Calvin was breezy and open with the absolute funniest and most priceless anecdotes…and so without further ado…Here’s the man who has done it ALL, Calvin Klein.

Volume One, Rebellious, cover image of Kate Moss, 1993, ©David Sims ; Volume Two,

Calvin dearest. I suppose the first and most obvious query here would be WTF took so long?! I am sure this idea of a coffee table book legacy from the icon that is the real Calvin Klein has been germinating for decades. So why only now?

Well, I’ve thought about it on and off, as you said. Not for decades, but I thought about it after I sold the company and after I stopped contributing to the company, because I did that for a number of years. Then I took on projects that seemed to me more important at the time. I worked with the Harlem Village Academy. That’s a group of charter schools in Harlem. I did a lot of work giving them an image, setting up website, uniforms, doing all kinds of things, and that took a couple of years to do. I also was working on my New York apartment, which took four years to complete.

Right, right…

When I worked – I worked 24/7, and I was thrilled to do it because I loved the work. Quite frankly, doing this interview with you is exactly what I would have done if I was coming out with a new fragrance or a new product line, and it’s my way of communicating to people what we’ve created and why. And also, working with the most creative people I could find – photographers, art directors, models, stylists, to do something that explains what I was trying to communicate…the product, but also do it in a very creative, fun, exciting, and sometimes, often, provocative way.

There is no question that this new Calvin Klein coffee table book is destined to be an instant collectible! And it it so Calvin! The spare, white cover and the simple unassuming typeface. Was Calvin hands off with the design, and more importantly the images that made the final cut? Was it all left up to your longtime Creative Director Fabien Baron? We all know Calvin is the ultimate control freak so this is hardly the most profound question!

George, let me start from the beginning. Anna Wintour and Kelly Klein, my ex-wife, whom worked with me on the book a great deal, as she had worked with me on editing the original images that we did from the ‘70s on. They both convinced me I have to do this. The reason I felt I had to do it is because I speak a great deal at universities. Cambridge was one that I had a very good experience with this year, Oxford in the UK, I’ve spoken to the Architectural School at Harvard and the Business School at Harvard. I’ve touched on so many different areas from fashion design, to beauty products, to the world of jeans where we did so many different things, in addition to advertising and marketing, package design…and saying something through words, as well as visuals that would be exciting. What I realized, going to universities, is that the people I’m speaking to, they know the name. The name became world-renowned before the internet even existed, but they don’t always know exactly what I do because they weren’t born. I’m speaking to 20 year olds, and I’m also speaking to businessmen who want to be global. Which was another thing we managed to do before the internet! This book is really the story of my life.

And I love it!

I wrote introductions to each section and I ended with the section that has stories, which has photos, and why we did the photo, how it went, and all that influence it had on our pop culture.

What I really loved seeing were the gorgeous, sexy images of the younger Calvin Klein interspersed throughout the book. Because for this arbiter those images, to me, truly defined exactly what you were always trying to do with your campaigns throughout those many decades. Those images of you truly defined The Calvin Klein DNA. That summed it all for me.

Thank you. I spent over a year just going through 40,000 images in my archives. And then I narrowed it down to…I don’t know…500, 600 that I then sent to Fabian Baron and said, “These are the images that I feel are important to say what I want to say.” Fabien Baron is a genius that I’ve worked with for years. He said, “You know, I see the different side of Calvin.” He said, “There’s that minimalist side that runs throughout the collection. It is so pure, and sensual, and sexy, but in a very subtle way.” And then he said. “Then there’s the provocative and controversial side,” he said, “where we would do things like…it started with Brooke Shields, you know, ‘Nothing comes between me and my Calvin’s.’”

Hello! And that is where Calvin Klein as the agent provocateur all began! It was that legendary…did I say legendary and forever iconic campaign of yours With the prepubescent Brooke Shields and nothing coming between her and her Calvins. Recall those early days for GW…

The news media picked it up around the world. There was so much publicity over the fact that we provoke people and used a very young-looking Brooke Shields to portray different roles. A lot of people thought it was brilliant and funny, and other people were truly offended. I never set out to create controversy, I promise you.

© Mario Sorrenti, Natalia Vodianova, St. Barts, 2003

Unlike today when creating viral internet controversy to achieve fame and fortune is the typical modus operandi. Calvin – you did all this before there was YouTube! You, in fact, presaged all that and, in fact, set the template for what is now the norm here in the 21st Century!

I just wanted to do the best work I can do and make it exciting…and, yes, there is that side of me that loves to party – years ago during the Studio 54 years. There is that side of me that appeals to eroticism, but most importantly, is the side of me that’s more minimalist, because that comes through in my homes, in my selection of how I live – furniture – how I arrange flowers, for how I design clothes. That minimalist aesthetic was always really important, and from that, then I wanted to tell the story of what I was trying to say in designing these things, and that’s where the campaigns came in. That’s where my collaboration with Bruce Weber began.

Tell me about that. Tell me about that time, because Bruce Weber was so much a part of the pedigree and heritage of the house of Calvin Klein.

I always had this affection and passion for photography. It seemed normal to me that if I’m creating the product, whether it’s fragrance or fashion, that I would know who the right photographer is to communicate that message, who the model is and where the photoshoot should be done. I would be on the phone with Bruce Weber three, four, five times a day and we would be discussing every aspect of the upcoming shoot, but it always started from one question, and that was “what is the meaning of this product?” He would say, “Calvin, what are you trying to say?” And from that threw us into trying to do something new, exciting, and interesting. We pushed the envelope, for sure, but I didn’t set out to push the envelope. In fact, when you work with very creative people, it’s a natural process. I was always willing to take risks.

Well, that’s for sure! (Laughter). Calvin, you said in the introduction to the book… “I’m a non-conformist by nature.” How old were you as a kid in the Bronx and first realizing that you were nonconformist by nature?

I was born in the Bronx. It’s part of New York, of course. From the age of six, seven, I was drawing and sketching. My grandmother worked for a designer as a dressmaker. My mother knew how to draw and sketch, and she had a passion for clothes. There’s even a photograph in the book of my mother, father, and myself – and I’m wearing leggings…leather leggings with a tweed jacket or something! My mother…her life was about fashion, and a particular kind. That’s where I got this minimalist thing. She was very sophisticated and very tailored. In this photograph that’s in the book, she’s wearing a Persian lamb coat, she’s wearing pants, and flat shoes.

So you came from that?

And this was in the 1940s!

What I am saying, is that your basic style element came from growing up with two obvious ‘’Fashion Bessies’’– Calvin!. Every pun intended…it was clearly in your genes!

That’s very funny. The truth is now I can explain that to people because no one… When we did imaging or product development, you end up with what you end up with, and you hope people like it as much as I did, but they don’t know what the vision was. They don’t know where it came from, and my childhood. They don’t know the story of my life. I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years, but we would always talk about what we were creating and what was new and different. Rather than…this is a boy who was influenced at a very early age by his grandmother and his mother.

‘’New York City in the ‘70s and ‘80s was the most exciting city in the world,’’ you also say in the book…

Yes.

But what are your thoughts of the city that made you an international icon here and now in the 21st Century? For GW – Calvin Klein is the quintessential New York City icon!

I’m a true New Yorker. I was born in New York. I went to schools – at Art and Design High School, the Fashion Institute of Technology for college – everything that I did, I was influenced by my surroundings. New York, whether it was the ‘70s and ‘80s, which was such an exciting period. It was like Paris in the 1930s. Berlin was another city. New York had it, I think, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but New York still has it. It’s still a center, magnet for creativity. That’s, today, it’s no different. Often I’m asked if, with the internet and all the changes of technology, could I have done what I did today. I truly believe that I could, because those things are all tools to make you more creative and to reach out to the world more easily, but in the end it’s about the product, it’s about finding something that people didn’t know they needed, but they do. Once they see it, then they know they would like to have it. It’s the combination of everything that I enjoyed being a part of. There wasn’t anything that ever had my name on it that I didn’t see, approve, or change, or help create from the very beginning, the middle, and the end…always.

 © Bruce Weber, Tom Hintnaus, Santorini, 1982

Wow! Well said CK! I will tell you this…I will always remember the first time, as a boy growing up in Jamaica and seeing for the first time in my young life a copy of Gentleman’s Quarterly [GQ] and seeing one of my first Calvin Klein underwear campaigns and being immediately aroused! And not understanding what it all meant. This young fifteen-year old boy in the bush in the West Indies. That ad I will never forget and was so happy to see it in the book.

That’s Tom Hintnaus. Let me tell you how it happened. I was driving along Sunset Boulevard and all of a sudden I see this young guy running on Sunset Boulevard. I stop my car, I jump out, and I say, “Hello. My name is Calvin Klein.” I said, “I’m in the fashion business.” I said, “Have you ever modeled?” He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “No, I’m a triathlete.”

Pole vaulter…he did everything…swimmer, he was captain of the water polo team at Pepperdine. This guy was fantastic. I said, “I’m doing a shoot with Bruce Weber about a lot of new products that we’re doing. We’re going to do it in Greece, an island called Santorini.” I said, “Would you like to go?” He said, “Yeah, sure!” I, then, sent Bruce a picture a Tom. I said to Bruce, “I’m insane over this young man. He’s gorgeous and he’s an athlete…everything healthy, and he’s a good kid.” You could just tell. Fast forward…we’re in Santorini and we’re shooting Tom in our underwear which was really like the launch of the men’s underwear. Bruce places him against this architecture, a part of the house, that looked like a gigantic phallic symbol. Bruce and I look at each other, because we both knew what we had. Then, of course, he took the pictures. Those days the bus stop shelters had just started in New York. I get a call from the city because I placed hundreds of bus stop shelters. So the posters are placed behind glass and the city called and they said, “Mr. Klein, we want you to know your bus stop shelters are being broken. The people are breaking the glass and stealing the posters.” I said, “How much does that cost for each bus stop shelter?” They said, “Ooh, about $500.” I said, “It’s okay. Let them break whatever they want and we’ll pay for it!”

Calvin! This is genius anecdote that has never been told. GW will never forget this priceless anecdote! I looked through the book. Of course, I studied every image, and this image in particular is so timeless. And, so personal to my discovering and discerning and first grasping my own sexuality. It is all so Amazing!

Thank you George! It means so much to hear that coming from you and I mean that.

And then of course the era of Kate!

I’ll tell you the story of Kate Moss. I went to Paris to see some fashion shows because in New York, the Council of Fashion Designers, we were thinking of creating a venue where a lot of us could show in this one place. I wanted to see how it works in Paris. I was always looking for models and I was always finding new ones. Liz Tilberis, Anna Wintour and all the editors would call me, “Have you seen anyone? Who do you like?” When I went to Paris, I suddenly started to see young women, models, that I was working with that I thought were so special, but, in fact, they were doing every other show in Paris. I thought, “Well, if I were the buyer or the press, I wouldn’t be so excited about seeing them because you see them everywhere. Instead, I decided to find a different look. I didn’t want these girls – and then they were called supermodels – who had big bosoms. They augment their bodies. They used artificial implants and things. They were doing crazy things to their bodies. I found that offensive. I found it really unattractive, unhealthy, and a bad message to send. Let me tell you, the girls who had their boobs done – I couldn’t fit them into anything because they were sticking out in places that didn’t fit my design. I came up with this idea…this is that many years ago, in the early ‘80s? There was this French actress, Vanessa Paradis. I thought, “You know, she’s got a look that’s totally different than what I see out there. To me she’s a little androgynous. She’s got a boyish kind of figure, but there’s something so beautiful and so sensual about her.” It turned out she was working on a film; I couldn’t get her. I was discussing this with Patrick Demarchelier. A week or two after we talked about Vanessa Paradis and this body type that I was mad for, he calls me and he said, “Calvin,” he says, “I think someone just came into my studio that I think you should see.” He said, “I think this is what you’re looking for.” – Kate Moss. She comes to my studio and shows me photographs that Mario Sorrenti took of her, who was her boyfriend at the time. I was, at that time, trying to reinvent Obsession, the fragrance, because the sales were slipping, and the fragrance company said I have to do something. I said, “Do what?” They said, “Come up with a new idea.” I have to take it, I have to completely update it, and I looked at the photographs and I said, “You know,” I said, “I’d like to meet your boyfriend who took these pictures,” because to me they said “obsession”. He was obsessed, in a very good way, with her. Sure enough he comes up, I see him a day or two later, and he shows me more. These are supposed to be the personal pictures that no one is supposed to see, and they’re showing them to me. I said, “Have you done much with photography?” He said, “Nothing,” he says, “I’m not a photographer.” He said, “I never took a picture for anybody. I just took these of Kate.” I said, “Well, I tell you what,” I said, “We will show you what you need to know. I want you to go to an island with her and just photograph her and then film her. We will show you how to do a commercial for TV and print.” He related this story to me, which I had forgotten, about four or five weeks ago at dinner. He said, “You started my career.” He says, “I was never a photographer,” but I sensed something in him, and in the two of them. The advertising was fantastic. It was really hot. It was sexy. It was really kind of great, and the sales went through the roof after that.  

© Mario Sorrenti, Kate Moss, Jost Van Dyke, 1993

That truly defines – Obsession. Here he was – a young man in love with a young woman – and it so happens that certain new body type. You wanted to reinvent the wheel. You wanted to start to bring a whole new feeling to the model aesthete – you, ever the revolutionary visionary – flipped the script on the ‘’Glamazon’’ supermodel and took the world into a whole new direction! It is something you managed to do decade, after decade, after decade, Calvin! It is just amazing!

That’s also why I put an image…as I paginated the book… One of the things I said to Fabian is, “I’d like to show on one page, on the left side, maybe it’s from the 1970s, and on the right side of the page, it’s from 2000.” It’s to show that the vision was consistent, and yet it changed all the time. We always had to come up with new ideas, but there was the vision of mine – it’s what I saw, what I was able to see, and create through working with great photographer. Richard [Dick] Avedon…I had a blast working with Dick. My God, he was so much fun. I used to go to his studio every night…when we were doing the Brooke Shields’ “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins. ” campaign. When we did that that was the first controversial thing that I ever did. I didn’t think it would create any controversy. I thought it was fun, it was amusing. June Arbus, who was Diane Arbus’ daughter, wrote the copy. Every night I’d be up at Dick’s studio, and he was on the floor acting like Brooke Shields.

Lawd have mercy…! (Hysterical laughter)

I swear. Dick was Just like Brooke with the mimic speaking, and he was saying the words that Brooke would say. Then he would go through the gestures of his arms, his body. We had a blast!

Calvin this is beyond thunder-dome! I have not laughed this hard in a long, long time!

And then we did like ten commercials for the Eternity fragrance campaign. I said to the fragrance company, I said, “Look, we have to do 10, because I don’t care about the cost. You figure it out, but I need to do nine more in addition to the one we just did. They said okay. Honestly, they were afraid of me, because I had some difficulty with the fragrance company…it was the company I owned and then sold to a public company and took licensing royalties, but I did all the creation, all the product design, the scents, the advertising. I did everything except warehouse and distribution. But again, with the Brooke, when I started to show the campaign to people, they were laughing, they thought they were great, but we got thrown off the air within days. We didn’t set out to create controversy to get publicity, we just wanted to do something that was amusing, clever, and kind of sexy. But because she was so young and she was saying things like, “What comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing,” meaning she’s not wearing any underwear. People went crazy. That was the beginning of me getting this reputation for being provocative and controversial, which I had to defend all those years, because people would think I set out to do that, but I never did.

But then, of course, after all that…all that early controversy from the get go. The question became…what will Calvin do next? How could Calvin Klein possibly top this?!

Always. Always. That was always the problem. But I looked at is as a challenge. The truth is it’s those challenges that excited me. My real obsession was perfectionism. That was my true obsession. I wanted everything that we did to be perfect. Well, rarely is anything perfect, and it’s just in one’s mind. I was always trying to make things better than the last thing we did, rather than sit back and say, “Isn’t it wonderful how well we’re doing, and we’re successful?” I never thought that way.

I will ALWAYS consider it’s one of the greatest moments of my life being asked to be in the first CK One TV commercials.

I know! I loved that!

Steven [Meisel] and Fabien [Baron] tossed GW into those commercials at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City with Kate Moss and Joe D’Alessandro and Lady Bunny—such a motley crew and totally unforgettable!

We had Alex [Gonzalez] and Raul [Martinez] working on it, too! What happened is I wanted Fabian, and Steven wanted Alex and Raul, so I said, “You know what?” I said, “Let’s take the whole bunch of them. I don’t care,” because the truth is I knew what I wanted and I needed them to help me facilitate it. Steven, and Alex and Raul presented this idea for the campaign. Which one we talking about…Eternity or CK One? CK One, yes?

Yeah, CK One.

They showed me an example of, at a rock concert, the mosh pit, and this girl wearing jeans in the mosh pit, and all of this and that. I was thinking, without being insulting, what do I say to them, because I did this 10 years ago with Bruce Weber and I wasn’t about to repeat it. I’m looking around the room – we were in Steven’s studio – really thinking of what do I say to these people? Sure enough, I focused on a couple of images on the wall that had a pink shag rug, knotty pine walls, and a young boy and a young girl in their underwear. Even though we were doing CK One, I looked at that and I said, “Mmm, this is, already, pushing the envelope, because it looks like porn.” I said to everyone, “You know, the mosh pits a great idea.” I said, “Congratulations.” But look at these two images on the wall.” I said, “What about putting cut-off jeans on the boy and putting a short little jean denim skirt on her, and maybe in her bra.” Steven looked at me and he said, “You would do that?” I said, “Yes!” That became the campaign that created a lot of controversy, especially the commercials. But I need to tell you the story with another CK One print campaign. You know the one with all the models lined up next to each other? I was working with Dick [Richard Avedon] also, at the same time. I went to Dick’s studio because we were working on something else and Dick started screaming at me; he said, “How could you! How could you let Steven Meisel copy, rip me off of what work that I did at the factory at Andy Warhol?” He said, “And you let it happen.” I said, “Why don’t you relax?” I said to him, “Relax.” I said, “You should be thrilled that he looks at you as this icon.” I said, “He’s imitating in his own way. He’s inspired by what you’ve done. It’s not really a copy,” I said, “but it’s an homage to you.” and Dick replied “No, I wanted the work. I should have gotten the work,” he said to me. He was a riot. I loved him.

It was epic! And I will always remember Kate Moss, who was always late, And kept us waiting on set for two hours over those three days before she would show up! But she got the job done.

That casting was brilliant. We had people casting all over the world. I would use people from model agencies once in a while, but, really, hardly ever.

© Patrick Demarchelier, Kristen McMenamy, 1993

Was marketing research and all that integral to your campaigns and product launches?

I would always create the product first. We would do market studies with fragrances, for instance, to see what was trending. Was it a sexy fragrance that was going to be the next big trend? Was it a romantic fragrance, like Eternity, which was floral? We did research especially in the world of fragrance, because there you’re selling an idea. You look at it – it’s just liquid, and a bottle – but the scent has to be what people will want. My role was to apply it to my life. If it was

Obsession, it was about me at Studio 54 being obsessed with partying and doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing. If it was Eternity, it became about life continuing on to children and grandchildren. No one sold perfume with children. It used to be, when I started in the fragrance world, a typical fragrance advertising would be a young, pretty thing, walking through fields meadows someplace by herself. I used to think, “I don’t know if that’s why people would buy fragrance, to walk by themselves in a field of daisies?” No. I said, “It has to do with attracting a man,” so I always did men and women in the advertising for all fragrances. The campaign, whether it’s been choosing the name of the fragrance, or choosing the photographer, or the model, it really came from me. Maybe I was given this gift when I was born, of knowing how to do these things. Often I would get an emotional reaction. When I edit film – and Bruce Weber shot more film than anyone, ever – I would edit thousands of pictures. In working with people like Bruce, what would happen as I’m editing, I get an emotional reaction. My heart would start beating faster.

That was the key – the emotional reaction?

Yes. Totally.

Of all the talent you’ve worked with, which of them will always have a special place in your heart, Calvin?

You know, no one’s ever asked me that before. Which one…it’s hard to say one person. I’ve worked with just really brilliant people…I mean, I worked with Irving Penn! Let me tell you, my discussions with Penn were most memorable because he was so tough and people were terrified of him. The magazine editors, the people who did the shoots, they were so nervous around him. I didn’t intimidate so easily. I found him to be just a brilliant, brilliant photographer and I took such joy in working with him and listening to him. He was an artist. He and I sat in my studio and I would go to introduce the first perfume we did and the cosmetics that went along with it, in this red Bakelite packaging. I showed him the product – the makeup container and all the different things we were doing – and it was all in a beautiful shade of red. He said to me, “These are really something.” He said, “No one uses Bakelite anymore. They use cheap plastic.” Bakelite was something from the ‘30s and ‘40s, but it had a quality to it. You felt it. You knew that there was something special about those packages. He, then, sat next to me and he started to draw. He drew what the ad would be. He was just genius, as was Dick Avedon, in his way…genius, and Bruce Weber, to this day is still brilliant. How does one say one is better than another? They’re all different, but they’re all great.

At the end of the day, Calvin worked with all the greats because he was great himself.There was, obviously, a time when anybody who was anyone wanted to work with you…

Oh, I didn’t ever think that way, or even was aware. I’m becoming more aware of this now that I’m talking to you and you’re asking me questions. It’s different now than it was, and I’m learning what people thought about me. When I was working on the book, I thought, “Is anyone going to really be interested in this, other than Kelly [Klein] and Anna Wintour?” I didn’t know. I always tell students this, “If you’re insecure, act as if you’re very confident, because you’re never going to get anywhere if you show insecurity.” We all feel insecure. That’s a normal human emotion, but you have to convince people of what you believe in and chances are if you believe in something, it’s probably a good thing. You just have to convince others through your own confidence. I was just lucky with so many things, that I instinctively knew what model, what photographer.

You hit the nail on the head right there, Calvin – instinct. The gut instinct that you possess.

You’re right. It is gut instinct. That’s exactly what it is.

And it is still has no equal! It is one of a kind. That’s deft instinctual touch to titillate popular culture is just the most incredible gift! It is something that you have to be born with. It is something that’s part of your core, and it served you well…very, very well!

Oh, my God. George, that is so sweet. That’s so adorable. You made my day! (Laughter)

(Laughter) And you have made mine Calvin Klein! Thank you!  

Thank you George! This was so nice, I really enjoyed it!

© Peter Lindbergh – Courtesy of Peter Lindberg, Paris /Gagosian Gallery

George Wayne is an Associate Editor at Interview and the first Contributing Editor at Allure magazine, George is best known for his GW Q&A’s, which twenty-two years later remain the must-read column in Vanity Fair. His beat remains celebrity culture and the whirly world of fashion, music and style.  ‡