This weekend Calvin Klein Collection will show men’s in New York for the first time since creative director Italo Zucchelli stepped into founder Calvin Klein’s shoes. After 11 shows in Milan, Zucchelli decided the brand’s 40th year called for something special.
“I thought it would be good for me, for New York and for the men’s business to bring this home,” said Zucchelli. “We are reigniting our men’s business in the U.S., and I want to help the men’s scene in New York, which is very interesting right now, with all the new men’s designers. It’s a good moment to be part of it and support it.”
Although the change of venue took Zucchelli out of his comfort zone, he said it didn’t affect the design process. He remained focused on the brand ideals and on balancing commerce with fashion.
“Of course, we’re living in a very peculiar and specific time, a global recession, and I think it’s especially important in a moment like this to really balance the two elements in a supersmart way,” he said. “The fashion is still definitely vital for this business — we don’t have to forget that, but we have to use extra care.”
Zucchelli preserves the heritage of minimalism and American sportswear at Calvin Klein, while bringing his own signatures to bear. He is fond of industrialism, structure, fabric innovation, reinventing the brand icons and putting unexpected materials to novel purpose. For example, the fall collection incorporates material bonded to textured foam, a technique normally used to make bicycle seats.
Calvin Klein Inc. has been shoring up the infrastructure behind Collection since it took the business back in-house in December 2007. Collection, including the women’s line designed by Francisco Costa, is the top tier in Calvin Klein’s pyramid of subbrands, and as the most exclusive label it has a “halo effect” that drives sales through the higher-volume businesses such as better sportswear, denim, fragrance and underwear. Although it is a money-losing operation, Calvin Klein Inc. chief executive officer Tom Murry has said Collection generates editorial coverage equivalent to $150 million worth of ads.
Zucchelli understands his role as a creator of desire. “When I was a student, I would look at things in magazines and think, I want to wear this tomorrow. That’s what I try to create.”
Actually, when Zucchelli was growing up in small-town Italy and attending Polimoda, he was more likely to covet Baroque fashion from the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier than the minimalist fantasy of Calvin Klein. But as his stints at Romeo Gigli and Jil Sander led to work at Calvin Klein, his tastes reversed. Klein chose him for the women’s team before Zucchelli requested a switch to men’s, and two years later, in 2003, he succeeded Klein in the men’s role.
Now he’ll show in the midst of a turbulent economy. But Zucchelli, with trademark serenity honed through years of meditation, takes the seismic shifts in stride.
“Customers are going to be more aware and designers are going to be more challenged, which doesn’t scare me. There have been periods like this in the past. Something good always comes out of it. The last one
I remember, after the Gulf War, that was when minimalism exploded,” he said.
Economic panic aside, Zucchelli just wants to keep making sophisticated clothes that people can relate to their bodies — so much that they desire to wear them. “I want to do something relevant and forward-looking, but most of all I want people to want it,” he said.