Dominant jeans

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am


'Art is a way for us to stay modern,' says Francisco Costa, creative director of Calvin Klein Collection's womenswear, before the opening of the World of Calvin Klein event in a custom-built structure on top of Seoul Station. Joining him in the South Korean capital are fellow creative directors Italo Zucchelli and Kevin Carrigan.

Asia has had a full dance card this year, with a queue of designer labels producing star-studded shows and events in the region's major cities. So far, we've seen Chanel in Tokyo, and Jean Paul Gaultier, Hugo Boss and Lanvin in Beijing.

Calvin Klein followed, with a 30th anniversary celebration for its underwear range and an exhibition, party and presentation of the label's ready-to-wear lines in Seoul.

The exhibition last week, titled 'Infinite Loop', was organised by the New Museum and curated by Lauren Cornell, the museum's adjunct curator and executive director of Rhizome. International artists such as Rafael Rozendaal, Scott Snibbe and the collective Flightphase paid tribute to Korean-American artist Nam June Paik, a pioneer of the video art movement in the 1960s. Their three installations explored the boundaries of technology and participatory art.

The centrepiece remains on public view at one of the city's busiest intersections. A programme of videos is looped and displayed on one of the world's largest LED screens, the 23-storey Seoul Media Canvas, which covers the outside of a building opposite Seoul Station.

'We've done multi-platform events. What is different about this one is the multimedia aspect,' says Carrigan who oversees CK Calvin Klein and the label's underwear and jeans lines.

Calvin Klein has always strived to be forward-looking, so it makes sense to hold an event like this in one of the most wired cities in the world - which also happens to have been one of its major markets for the past 30 years. The label also announced a new Tumblr site curated by Norwegian blogger Hanneli Mustaparta.

'We've always designed for the present and the future,' says Carrigan. 'It's always what Mr Klein has been about. He's a modernist. We are here to continue that.'

Largely thanks to the internet, fashion is becoming increasingly democratised. 'It's a good thing,' Costa says. 'How can anyone not think it's a good thing?'

At the Calvin Klein Underwear party the night before, hosted by campaign model Matthew Terry, Korean youths jammed into the Octagon Club to see local singer Seven perform. The New York team sat on a balcony, watching the party-goers, who were glued to their phones all evening, taking pictures, posting them online and chatting. It's a common sight at gigs and parties in Asia, and one that Costa finds fascinating. 'We just have to educate ourselves about the way kids communicate ... although I was a little freaked out,' he says.

'There is a lot of movement forward here, not just in new stores and technology, but also openness,' says Carrigan.

Being in touch with the new constantly pushes both designers to find a 'mood' for each season, as well as the latest techniques and fabrics around.

'Calvin Klein once told me that there's nothing right and nothing wrong; there's only the right time and the wrong time,' says Costa.

Costa and Carrigan were picked for their roles by Klein, who founded his label in 1968 with his partner and childhood friend, Barry Schwartz. His modern, no-fuss aesthetic became a hit after his first major show at New York Fashion Week. Soon his label expanded to include perfumes, jeans, underwear and ready-to-wear.

'He's always had a very strong sense of a vision,' says Carrigan. 'He really taught me about editing: what is your seasonal message, and how do you move forward every six months.'

'What I enjoy most is the editing process,' adds Costa. 'How those layers start to unfold and peel and become something that is pure and simple. It takes a lot of cutting back.'

Costa, who took on the role of creative director for womenswear in 2003, considers himself to be a reductionist designer and says he loves the purity of the label. 'I feel very connected to the brand because that was an aesthetic that I loved growing up. It's all about simplicity and precision.'

Klein was one of the first to tap celebrity talent for his label, setting off a lucrative trend for designers and fashion houses. Remember a 15-year-old Brooke Shields, naked bar a pair of fitted jeans, gazing at the camera, announcing to the world: 'Nothing comes between me and my Calvins'?

Then there was Kate Moss, the androgynous waif of the '90s; later, Russian supermodel, doe-eyed Natalia Vodianova; and today, Holland's voluptuous Lara Stone.

'Mr Klein is very provocative and created a new standard for fashion and the celebrity world,' says Costa. 'He was seeing that long before everyone else.'

To capture the face of each decade is no mean feat. Whether they're shots of Mark Wahlberg, Hidetoshi Nakata, Eva Mendes or other stars of the moment, teenagers have been ripping them out of magazines to stick on their bedroom walls for decades.

Part of this success is due to the 'American cool' lifestyle the label sells and its constant effort to be at the forefront of new, young talent and movements.

'It's also about freedom,' says Costa. 'That's so incredibly important and inspires people to want to be part of that world.'

Being part of the revived New York fashion scene has given them an edge, compared with more established European capitals.

'Compared with Europe, New York has a real celebration of young designers, talents and the future of fashion as well as global people who have lived and travelled,' says Carrigan.

His time with the company has also reaffirmed his interest in Bauhaus, modernism and the accessible designs of the '30s, he says. He travels often but makes an effort to go out and interact with customers. He even admits to going up to people in clubs and asking: 'Are you wearing my underwear?'

Nine times out of 10, he says, if it's a guy, the answer will be yes.

'Many an inspiration comes at two in the morning, when you meet some cool kid who is wearing something in a certain way,' says Carrigan. 'There is a sense of the unforgiving bravery of the young that I absolutely love.'