Calvin Klein is celebrating its 40th anniversary on Sunday with one of the most anticipated events of New York Fashion Week in a purpose-built John Pawson structure with access to the High Line, the park project on an abandoned rail corridor on Manhattan’s far west side.
Pawson’s aesthetic is inextricably linked to that of the fashion house. In 1995, the architect made a powerful statement on minimalism with his interior concept for the Calvin Klein Collection flagship on Madison Avenue — pioneering the synergies between fashion and architecture, and even attracting the attention of Cistercian monks, for whom Pawson designed a monastery in the Czech Republic.
This story first appeared in the September 5, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD caught up with Pawson to discuss Calvin Klein, retail and, of course, the new minimalism.
WWD: What were you hoping to achieve with the High Line structure?
John Pawson: I refer to all my projects in the same way. You want to make a fantastic space that people feel comfortable in. The approach for the Madison Avenue store was to make it a place where the clothes and people look good, and then people will feel good. It’s this feel-good factor.
The main thing about this particular project is that the High Line itself is the guest of honor. It’s about framing the view of this particular part of New York. The other main part, besides the idea of the High Line and the company’s 40th, is that they invited [artist] James Turrell to do the installation.
WWD: In your view, what will be the most important feature of the structure?
J.P.: For me, it’s New York. Most people, me included, weren’t too aware of the High Line. Maybe you have seen it from below, but to be on top of it is very different. It gives you this unique perspective of the city. It’s like a special viewing platform.
WWD: Since creating the Calvin Klein store concept for Madison Avenue, how has minimalism evolved?
J.P: I can only speak for myself. It’s important to try new things. The basic language remains the same, but you try and push the vocabulary. The basic tendencies of simplicity and clarity will never change. It’s just how you deal with it in every decade or century.
WWD: At the Calvin event on Sunday, will anything reflect how you deal with minimalism in this decade?
J.P.: I don’t think there is anything that differentiates it so easily in architecture. If you make comparisons with fashion, Francisco [Costa] is very skilled in giving what is a very complex construction this quality of simplicity. That’s hopefully what I try to do, as well. You try and make something that is very complex appear very visually simple.
WWD: Overall, how do you think retail has evolved over the past few years? Have interior concepts improved or deteriorated?
J.P.: People always say to me, “Oh, gosh, you will be horrified if you see my interior,” because it might be Baroque or 19th century, or something like that. Of course, I can appreciate everything that’s good. It doesn’t have to be simple or minimal. The fact that quite a few fashion houses are bringing in architects to change people’s experiences of shopping is extraordinary. It means a lot of people get to see this new, exciting architecture firsthand, very easily. They don’t normally always have that access. People are after an experience from a shop, because being on the Internet, you can now get goods in so many different ways. Shopping as an experience is important.
WWD: What are some of the other projects you are working on right now?
J.P.: The U.S. is really where most of my work comes from. I have a fantastic relationship with [developer] Ian Schrager who understands design and architecture so well. As he put it, he can get on with any designer. Not that I am difficult, but he really understands how architecture is made. We are working on a hotel in Miami for him, and on his own apartment in the Herzog de Meuron building on Bond Street.
We are also doing a condominium on Broadway and Madison Square Park. We are doing a 160-foot sailing yacht in Italy, and a cricket pavilion for my son’s school in Oxford.
The monks are the other side of the equation. We never stopped work on the two Cistercian monasteries. There is a new one in the Czech Republic. We finished the main church and cloister, but we are now doing a guest house and a small factory, and things like that.
WWD: How do you juggle it all, from retail to residential to monasteries?
J.P.: It’s actually much easier than you think. You approach it in exactly the same way. It’s about making architecture for people, and understanding what they want. Years ago, the monks saw the Madison Avenue store and thought the space was beautiful and thought it should have been a church. Architecture is obviously a physical thing, but it’s also built for people. In a way, that’s what I am looking forward to on Sunday, because I can understand the drawings and how I feel it’s going to be, but it only comes alive when you are there and see it in action.