Like many Francisco Costa's first contact with Calvin Klein was down to Brooke Shields and the infamous ‘Nothing comes between me and my Calvins’ denim ad campaign of 1981. ‘The whole thing was so provocative. It made you want to be part of it. So sexy. So alive. It’s a moment I’ll never forget,’ Costa says. Whether or not this led to the Brazilian-born designer’s eventual appointment 20 years later is tenuous, but the allure of such a potent brand encouraged him to move over from the Gucci Group in 2001. Initially working under the founder himself, little did Costa know that, just a few months later, Mr Klein would be exiting after selling the company to clothing corporation Phillips-Van Heusen for approximately $730 million. A daunting challenge? Certainly, but one that Costa has excelled at. This year marks a decade of his creative directorship at Calvin Klein Collection – business is buoyant, the brand is distinctive and his runway shows continue to be praised by critics.
(L-R- CK Colloection Resort '14, CK Collection A/W '13, CK Collection Resort '14)
Brooke may be the original Calvin Klein babe, but Costa has his modern starry set to consider – and not just within the realm of campaign land. Celebrity dressing is a huge – and conscious – part of his business plan for the modern era of Calvin Klein. ‘I love it for many reasons,’ he says of the process behind creating red-carpet dresses and seeing style-setting, high- profile girls on his front row. ‘It brings a lot of awareness to the brand, so I think it’s very important. We do it deliberately.’ And while it may be deliberate, all and sundry don’t receive the OK to wear it. Costa has impeccable taste when it comes to A-listers he’ll collaborate with, but no matter what body shape, industry or personal style, all of his ladies are ‘really strong, independent people. They have a point of view. They’re feminine and cool. You know they're natural.’
Which makes for an interesting and varied line-up of girls who qualify for Calvin Klein Collection status. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo star Rooney Mara is the latest to join the impressive gang of fans that includes Diane Kruger, Kate Bosworth, Dree Hemingway and Gia Coppola. ‘Rooney is the face of our new fragrance campaign. She’s so chic in whatever she puts on,’ says Costa. But her gothic, waif-like look couldn’t be more removed from the va-va-voom of the first celebrity Costa ever dressed – Scarlett Johansson at the Met Gala in 2004. And then there’s Rihanna. A girl you wouldn’t usually put in the Calvin Klein box, but who blew every other attendee out of the water when she chose the simplest of his slip dresses for the GQ Awards last year. ‘I mean, how gorgeous?’ says Costa of the ravishing scarlet number. ‘Calvin had done this kind of little dress for the film Clueless and the was just a “Clueless moment” again. It’s totally cool and easy. Nothing to it, and you’ve never seen Rihanna like that.’ Ditto Jennifer Lawrence, whose slinky red gown at the Academy Awards in 2011 caused jaws to drop across the globe and will crop up on best-dressed lists forever more. ‘She was the first girl on the red carpet and I didn’t actually know who she was! So there was an element of surprise. Her character [in Winter's Bone] is so tough and, all of a sudden, she rocks up in this dress and looked so sexy, so confident, so beautiful. At these awards you expect glitz, but instead she did this against all the odds.’
(L-R- Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawerence, Diane Kruger)
So it would appear that sexy is still the modus operandi, but Costa realises that such a thing is generated by more than just the magic trickery of his perfect pattern- cutting, a penchant for fetish detailing or clever undergarment construction. You still need the right girl inside the right dress. The person has to have a certain level of confidence. We keep our red-carpet dresses simple... but always glamorous.’ True, the overall effect may be fuss-free, but the impact of a Calvin Klein Collection dress should never be underestimated. Neither should the amount of work that goes into one, meaning simple shouldn’t be mistaken for minimal. In fact, the word minimal could be considered a dirty one – it’s a term Calvin Klein himself always rejected, and Costa agrees. ‘I don’t want anything that can date you or that feels like you’ve been put in a time capsule,’ he says. ‘Calvin always looked forward, never back.’ Costa continues to push into the future with his own global vision, and with eight collections a year and rave reviews for his spring/summer ’14 show, this 10-year milestone must surely resurrect memories of best moments thus far? ‘There hasn’t been one in particular, I just feel thrilled to be here,’ he says, then modestly changes his mind to talk about spring/summer 2006. ‘The “polka-dot” collection, as I called it, was one that I loved. I think it was one of the best shows I’ve ever done. The clothes spoke of modernity. It was directional and timeless. That was when people started believing in what I was doing and I got a nomination for a CFDA [Council of Fashion Directors of America] award. Here I am telling you I haven’t had any moments. I’ve had a load of moments!’ And many more to come.