While speculation has centered on Raf Simons since last fall, Klein wasn’t naming names.
Klein’s timetable fits Simons’ schedule, since his non-compete agreement with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton that took effect after he stepped down from Christian Dior is understood to expire at the end of July.
The new creative director’s arrival also is expected to result in a shake-up of the fashion house’s staff. Asked whether layoffs would be part of a design change, Klein told WWD, “When someone new comes in, you can expect changes. It’s natural.”
Klein discussed his namesake brand following an hourlong, town-hall-style interview with Andy Cohen at Sirius XM. He was very frank with Cohen in describing his decision to leave. “Managing a global business was not fun and designing clothes was my passion. It started to become more problematic and putting out fires everywhere. The key is letting go. I was no longer in control of the company. They did whatever they thought was the best thing to do. I’m still getting paid a great deal of money [under a royalty agreement with PVH that expires in 2018]. Would I have done it the same way? No.”
Singling out the Justin Bieber campaign as a winner, Klein told Cohen, “But it’s been a long time since I saw something exciting.…They just finally made changes in the design staff. They are doing something that I had hoped they would have done, which is replace me. Find someone who can with a singular vision oversee everything that is creative. They won’t announce [who it is] publicly because it’s under contract. But the whole industry knows.”
For the most part, Klein steers clear of sharing any criticism with the company that he sold to PVH Corp. in 2002. “No, it’s not my place. I’m not in control. For me to be a judge, even though I wouldn’t mind being a judge, and judge everything that I see, it would be unfair and inappropriate for me to judge the decisions they make.”
At work on a series of visual books about all the work he has done and how he did it, Klein said he has spent the past year editing 40,000 images. The first book will be published by Rizzoli in fall 2017, but this fall he will visit Oxford University to speak to students. With Cohen, he shared such business insights as, “I think celebrities in fashion and in fragrance is a joke. It doesn’t work. Most of the fragrances have failed. To make clothes that are special, having a celebrity name does not translate into creating fashion. I think the celebrity thing is nothing,” Klein said.
Asked for his opinion of Kanye West, Klein said, “I don’t think about that — not at all,” continuing, “Success is how you feel about what you’re doing. You have to please yourself and trust your instincts. You can’t go by what other people think.”
“The real challenge is, ‘How big can you get before you get bad?’ Operating a global business is an enormous challenge because the cultures and demands are different. Even though we’re all starting to look alike, and that is the American influence, it hasn’t happened everywhere. You have to adjust what you do to the part of the world that you’re selling to.”
Making the occasional store appearance was not Klein’s favorite part about his job. “I hate to shop. I don’t know how men and women shop. I mean to get dressed, to decide what shoe to wear and what shirt — it’s just too much trouble,” he said. “Ironic,” Cohen offered.
And Ladies Who Lunch are no longer the heart of fashion from Klein’s standpoint. “They’re not. They’re customers but the middle of America are the people who really buy. I was always interested in reaching as many people as I could and I did it through interviews, through product,” he said.
Recalling a shoot with Bruce Weber in Santorini with his first men’s underwear model Tom Hintnaus (a triathlete Klein had scouted running along Sunset Boulevard), the designer said after deciding Hintnaus pose in front of a phallic-looking structure, “I must admit, all I could see was dollar signs. I was so excited.”
He wasn’t the only one. After learning that people were breaking bus shelters to steal the ads, Klein said when he asked and found out each one was costing him $500, he said, “OK, let them do it.”
Cohen told Klein, “That ad, I’ll tell you, had a profound effect on me.”
Klein said he first noticed Mark Wahlberg, better known then as “Marky Mark,” on the cover of Rolling Stone because the waistband of his Calvin Klein underwear could be seen beneath his jeans. With the help of his friend David Geffen, Wahlberg was flown to Long Island to meet with Klein. “What did he have to say Calvin? Anything?” Cohen asked.
“He had a story for every pair of jeans he’s ever owned. He’s really smart — street smart. His body was perfection, little, but the proportion. And the way he ate, and I’m a little crazy in that direction, too, because I eat Japanese food lunch and dinner, and drink green juices all day long. But Mark was even more obsessive about how he looked. And he had this appeal. He was a boy-girl when he was very young, kind of androgynous but sexy.”
Asked about his Studio 54 days, Klein said he probably went four nights a week and the rare night off always triggered an “Oh-you-missed-it” call from Steve Rubell the following morning. Klein was there the night his pal Bianca Jagger arrived on a horse, but another memory was more indelible. After a man fell off the balcony and died, “Rubell said, ‘Isn’t it great? This person died, we got him out and nobody knows.’ He thought it was an accomplishment, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, geez.’”
Klein said the day [in 1981] that Rubell and his business partner Ian Schrager were released from jail for tax evasion and obstruction of justice, he took them in a helicopter. “We went all around New York. I wanted them to experience a high, but in a healthy way.”
Asked about the FIT myth that a professor suggested he was wasting his time at the school, Klein said the professor had actually encouraged him to leave because he was really talented and should get right out in the industry. “What happened was I ended up having an affair with the professor. She was asked to leave FIT after that judgment.”
Growing up in the Bronx, Klein said he knew Ralph Lauren, who was a bit older, by sight. “You could tell that Ralph lived in this almost fantasy world. He would dress in a way that no one in the Bronx dressed. I was dressed like I was going to get into a fight like I was cool and dangerous. Ralph was dressed like he was going to Deauville in France, and he’s going on a boat…and he’s a genius. He is an absolute genius.”
Next on Klein’s check list is “just being creative and giving back to speaking and sharing my experiences. There are so many ways of being creative — through architecture, landscaping. I’ve planted every blade of grass at my house. It doesn’t have to be just with clothing.”
Another assignment will be returning to Sirius XM for a follow-up interview. That wasn’t in the cards originally, but the pair agreed on a second as soon as the first ended. The first interview will air on Sirius XM Radio Andy channel on June 10 at 8 a.m.