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A Conversation with Calvin Klein

The master minimalist talks image, options and shoes.

NEW YORK — Calvin Klein made a maximum impact with his minimalist style on the runways for fall; his spare, modern spirit was reflected in the deftly feminine and simple footwear by newly signed partner Diego Della Valle. FN recently caught up with the low-key designer before he escaped on a three-week vacation and queried the king of sportswear on his footwear passion, new proportions, deconstructionalist bent and the shape of things to come.

FN: First, you are well-known in footwear circles for your passion for shoes. Where did this passion begin, how did it develop and how does it play out in clothing and shoe design — and in your working relationship with shoe licensee Diego Della Valle?

CK: I’ve always been passionate about shoes. They’re so important. They affect the whole sense of proportion and mood of an outfit — they complete the picture — the image that I have in my mind.

FN: What unique talents and point of view does Diego Della Valle bring to the table?

CK: Diego has a state-of-the-art factory and his reputation for quality craftsmanship is known throughout the industry. I also find Diego to be a very modern businessman, very forward-thinking. With Diego, there is a meeting of the minds — we have a similar way of looking at the footwear business and we’re both committed to quality and style. He also has extensive experience and knowledge of the footwear market, both domestically and abroad.

FN: How important are the shoes in the whole picture of fashion? When you are conceptualizing a season’s ready-to-wear, do all accessories (including shoes) figure into early image, or do you have a particular piece, inspiration or attitude — something less tangible — that becomes your starting point?

CK: I want my clothes to be proportioned. I’m always thinking about the complete look and the balance. The shoes also have to allow women choices — different heights and fabrics and styles. It’s fascinating — they’re so important.

FN: You are also known for your prescient abilities when it comes to trends, part of your appreciation of what is hip, whether it be showing the first heavy boots or the next important proportion. To what or where do you turn to stay plugged into the cutting-edge trends? What do you see as the proportion of things to come for spring ’95 and what will this mean for footwear?

CK: I’m always doing what I think is modern according to my own taste and style. It’s really that simple — you just have an idea — a shape that’s in your mind and you go from there. Changing proportions of clothing and shoes creates interest in dressing.

FN: Your signature color palette is muted, almost an austere naturalness to it. With signs of a return to brights on the horizon for spring, are you looking at any changes in your palette?

CK: My clothing will always be simple, modern and uncomplicated …. the colors I use have always been very natural. I don’t think that will change.

FN: The CK Calvin Klein line has been well-received, as have many designers’ secondary, traditionally more youthfully focused lines. For fall, CK looked more sophisticated than in the past and the Calvin Klein collection has taken on a very hip attitude, moving away from classic sportswear. Do these evolutions represent a trend that is happening in fashion — possibly a convergence of attitudes of young and old? If so, how has or how will this movement effect footwear?

CK: The collection woman will always want some pieces from CK Calvin Klein and I hope the CK customer will always want something from the signature collection. It’s about choice and variety. I always design CK with all things that I love — things that are fun, sporty and hip and have their own point of view. Of course, the essence of what I do for Calvin Klein exists. The same philosophy follows for the footwear. The collection is a reflection of what I’m feeling about the season and the collections. The shoes are meant to fulfill a modern woman’s life, and that could be a mid-heel for day, or a sexy evening shoe.

FN: The fall Calvin Klein show was a minimalist triumph, “both somber and sexy,” according to WWD, embodying the edgier attitude that you have been exploring for awhile. The shoes are equally spare, mostly flats. And while most of your hemlines hit below the knee, you expressed the opinion that hem length doesn’t matter, an opinion that has gained a big following in the past few seasons. In terms of footwear’s role in creating a proportion, what is the best footwear shape, weight, characteristic to fit with this hemline free-for-all?

CK: We’re playing with new proportions…the women’s collection clothes need a lighter shoe to balance the look, so we showed a lighter, more elegant shoe with a definite heel. I also showed the ballet slipper with new lengths because I thought it made the clothes look young and modern — which is so great. With shoes you can change a look completely, you have more choices. For CK Calvin Klein, we showed shoes that were more of a menswear derivative and defined…shoes with a spirit to them that are very contemporary in feeling…colors are great.

FN: Back to CK. What is happening? Any licensing news we should be on the look out for?

CK: (He declines to comment.)

FN: What do you think about the return of spike heels?

CK: I think that it’s great — they’re so sexy.

FN: What is Kelly’s favorite shoe?

CK: Her riding boots — probably from ten years ago.

FN: Thanks. Have a great vacation.