By  on March 24, 2010

MELBOURNE — The white paint used on the walls of Calvin Klein International’s New York headquarters is faithful to the exact shade of white used by Klein when he first opened his business — and no, the company does not censor its comments on Facebook. So heard an Australian audience on Friday.

Calvin Klein Collection women’s creative director Francisco Costa and the company’s executive vice president of global communications, Malcolm Carfrae, a native Australian, appeared here in an informal question-and-answer session led by Vogue Australia editor Kirstie Clements as part of the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Business Seminar.

During the seminar, Costa confessed he sews “very badly…but I can drape” — and that he struggled to come to terms with criticism of his collections at the beginning of his tenure with the company.

When asked what the mixed early reviews did for his ego (he singled out WWD’s review as “devastating”), Costa replied, “I didn’t know how to deal with it. I felt like I was in space.”

Nowadays, said Costa, he deals with criticism by taking a proactive approach with his critics: he gets on the phone with them.

As for the possibility of launching his own label one day, Costa said that “it’s every designer’s dream. But I’m totally at home at Calvin and the support that I have is enormous, so perhaps it’s not the best time.”

Other topics covered included the power of celebrity, the new blogger guard (“We don’t know who is reading Tavi, but her opinion is almost as important as that of a regular critic,” said Carfrae) and the need to be mindful of extravagant party costs — which can look bad during the global economic crisis.

On the subject of criticism, Clements sent a frisson around the room when she asked Carfrae if the company censored negative comments on its Facebook fan page.

After he replied no, Clements confessed onstage that “we knock them off” on vogue.com.au. At a party that followed the seminar, Clements told WWD that Vogue Australia refused to publish any negative comments about its advertisers.

Now in its 13th year, the LMFF seminar also featured talks by Paul Bennett, managing partner and chief creative officer of Ideo; Christian Blanckaert, the former managing director of Hermès, now president of Petit Bateau; Fashionair.com co-founder Sojin Lee, and Sarah Curran, the chief executive officer of British e-tailer Mywardrobe.com.

“The ’Net has done for fashion what low-cost airlines did for travel,” said Lee, who described Fashionair as “the rock band…we’re on stage, but occasionally we’ll pick people out of the audience and bring them onstage with us.”

Curran revealed that her four-year-old Mywardrobe.com— “the online home of wearable fashion” — generates 5.5 million page views a month, with 80,000 e-mail subscribers and 178 percent year-over-year growth.

Blanckaert, whose new book “Les 100 mots du luxe” was published by the Presses Universitaires de France on the day of the seminar, said he felt optimistic about the future of the luxury business, in spite of the crisis, which had “deeply affected” the industry in 2009.

Blanckaert said he believes “sustainable luxury” is one key to the industry’s future, as are brands being mindful of their DNA.

“You have to stick to your address; you can’t do anything you like with your home,” he added.

One of the biggest mistakes made by luxury companies during the crisis, said Blanckaert, has been “to be afraid and to stop creation, I think they have a tendency to go too much to the bestseller.”

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