Features: Conversation With...

Sep
2002

The 10 Spot




For Calvin Klein, eyewear and sunwear are an integral part of his lifestyle mix. The man responsible for both the designer jean phenomenon of the late ’70s and making tighty whities high fashion has fueled that same intensity of innovation and clean contemporary design in his eyewear collection with Marchon Eyewear.
“I have a belief in design that runs throughout all of the products we do—for apparel, for home accessories—it’s about contemporary, modern design,” explains Klein. “So much of the eyewear has to do with what we’re doing in other areas of design. It has to do with metals or finishes or plastics. Things that relate back to our accessories or home products. It’s a whole lifestyle.”

Even after a decade, the designer is still excited about the frame game. “Eyewear is something I’ve always had special feelings for,” says Klein. “I love sunglasses. I used to collect all kinds of antique eyewear myself. It really is a wonderful way of expressing a designer’s sensibility. It’s our 10th year in business [with Marchon] and it’s something I’m still close to and passionate about.”

And he views eyeglasses as a significant part of the world of fashion. “I think eyewear is right up there with makeup and cosmetics, footwear and handbags,” says Klein. “It’s a really key accessory for both a woman and a man. For a man it may be his only accessory besides a watch. Frames, for both sun and ophthalmic, tell a lot about the person.”

Klein has nothing but praise for Marchon. “I think of Marchon as business partners,” says the designer. “What I try to do in every business where we don’t manufacture the product ourselves is to find the best in that industry—the expert. Marchon has been right on the top of that list. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with them. They truly understand what the brand stands for and that’s key.

Whatever we try to do, nothing is too much. They’re ready to make it happen.”
Calvin Klein would know about making things happen. He has been on the track for fashion success from the get go. Born in the Bronx in 1942, he attended the New York High School of Design and later graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology (more commonly known as F.I.T.) in 1962. In 1968, he along with childhood friend and business partner Barry K. Schwartz, founded Calvin Klein, Inc. with a line of women’s coats. As the infamous story goes, Mildred Custin, a buyer from Bonwit Teller, discovered Klein when she accidentally got off on the wrong floor and wandered into his workroom. Impressed by his coats, she placed an order and the young designer’s career was officially launched.

Klein added a women’s sportswear line in the early ’70s. His idea was to take the stuffy world of designer clothing and make it young. He began experimenting with denim for women and introduced Calvin Klein Jeans in 1978. The famous Brooke Shields commercial ran in 1980… often misquoted, Shields looks at the camera and asks: “Do you know what comes between me and my Calvin’s? … Nothing.” 
Turning what was a necessity into a fashion statement, he debuted his men’s underwear line in the mid ’80s prompting other designers to follow suit after its great success. Klein gained true cultural icon status when Michael J. Fox’s character in a scene from the hit movie “Back to the Future” was mistakenly called “Calvin Klein”—the name on his underwear band.

Always an innovator, the designer created the first-ever unisex fragrance, cK One in the early ’90s. His work has garnered him a host of Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Awards for both his women’s and men’s fashions including several designer of the year honors and a recent lifetime achievement award.

But with all his lines and licenses the designer still maintains a consistent flow for each product bearing his moniker. “We design everything that has the name Calvin Klein,” he says. “So it comes from us. The shapes, materials and colors that we create—we are thinking of everything we love. The same way we create our colors for cosmetics or home furnishings there is a synergy and a whole lifestyle surrounding it.”

That synergy is apparent in Calvin Klein Eyewear’s Fall 2002 collection, which centers on the bold and the beautiful. “I’m thinking a lot about glamour and bold strong shapes. Frames that read luxury and glamour,” he says. “We’ve been working with titanium and acetates in really modern colors and blends. We’ve been combining color and shine in really interesting ways. In ophthalmic, as far as color we have great new orchids and olives, ruby red, peach and midnight as well as turquoise. There’s layering of color in acetates and very innovative combinations of garnet and quartz, and indigo and steel—all with a high shine. In sun we have new tinted flash lenses with shimmer. We used such colors as crystal gray and turquoise. For men we have a great oversized aviator.”

A celebrity in his own right, Klein says he keeps his designs focused on real men and women. “I don’t think in terms of celebrities when I design,” he notes. “Everything I do is inspired by the American woman and man. How they think and how they look.” He adds, however, if pressed to name two stars that are perfect candidates for his designs they would be Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow. “They have worn everything we’ve done over the years.”

The secret of Calvin Klein’s longevity in the fickle fashion industry most likely lies in his mantra of modernity and simplicity. “Our philosophy has to do with contemporary modern design for people of any age,” explains Klein. “It’s really about an attitude and it does have to do with simplicity and taste and sophistication.”

 

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