Calvin Klein met with a group of FIT presidential scholars on Wednesday to talk about the then-and-now of the fashion world and what many call the genius behind the Calvin Klein brand. “You’re all special ones, so you really have to do it,” he said to the group of art & design that includes fashion design, as well as advertising & marketing communication and home products students.
Mr. Klein talked about his New York sensibility but also his roaming artistic eye–one that picked up on color and experiences from Studio 54 to Florence and Paris. “When I graduated design school and after FIT there were a few who were really good and went to Paris. I said ‘it’s not me—I’m too American. I’m too New York,'” he said.
Mr. Klein told of the mechanical malfunction that led to his discovery. “The elevator door opened on the wrong floor. A man just walked in…The colors caught his eye…’Hi my name is Donald O’Brien, (an executive at Bonwit Teller). I will have the buyer down here on Friday and on Saturday you will be discovered.’”
Truth was, “I think I would have made it work anyway. I was afraid to fail.”
“My style was minimal and understated and the photography reflected that.” The controversy over risqué ad campaigns weren’t “minimal” however. “In truth, it was the marketing,” he said of Calvin Klein jeans. “We gave it an image.”
The ensuing outrage didn’t hurt.
A restlessness led to more phases of his career. “The only thing that kept me going was that I got bored. After a while it’s hard to get excited by a white cotton shirt.
Mr. Klein was never entirely New York-centric. “I’d take chips off the buildings. In Florence you see every color. It was all on the streets. Rothko was my favorite. I’d die over his colors.”
“I never thought when I was a student (at FIT in 1962) I’d be that big. You don’t have that kind of vision, but you do plan ahead.”
Mr. Klein advised the scholars that they should work for someone they admire. “Someone you relate to and respect and can learn from. When I hired people that’s what I looked for.”
“It’s a pleasure to talk to the students who are really strong,” he said after fielding questions.
“I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet Calvin Klein,” said Dongeun Esther Lee, Packaging Design senior & President Scholar. “He truly inspired me. Not only did he do his best, but he enjoyed doing it, and appreciates what he’s been given. He gives back to the society and motivates students and others.”
photos: Rachel Ellner