Neil Kraft is the rare individual who combines true creative expertise with business acumen. In his work with the likes of Barneys New York, Calvin Klein, Coty and Elizabeth Arden, he has created campaigns that transcend advertising to become cultural phenomena. Who can forget a naked Kate Moss lying languidly on a couch for Klein’s Obsession or frolicking topless with Marky Mark to sell blue jeans, to name just the most famous examples. Kraft is known for being as direct as he is directional. Here, during a recent conversation in his SoHo office, which is dominated in equal parts by stacks and stacks of art books and eye-popping orange office accessories, Kraft opens up about defying conventions in a world resistant to radical change. Can you describe what you do? How do you see your role? My father used to call me and he’d go, ‘Do you take the pictures?’ And I’d say, ‘No.’ He’d say, ‘Do you write the ads?’ And I’d go, ‘No,’ and he goes, ‘So then what is it that you do do?’ [laughs] What I do is try to create beautiful things and create something simple and meaningful that will break through. The hardest part of my job is trying to create things that break through with clients who don’t always want you to break through.
Are most clients reluctant to push the creative envelope? In our business, you’re only as good as your clients. When we did CK One, it was the cosmetics company, which at the time was owned by Unilever, that was pushing us to break all the rules, not Calvin. That created ground-breaking advertising. We still get people who come in and say, ‘I want to do CK One’ or ‘I want to be Gucci’ and I ask, ‘Are you willing to change everything?’ It doesn’t happen overnight.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"