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I think what motivated Calvin was to do something that had never been done before,” says his friend Sandy Gallin, the former talent manager.
Another thing that set Klein apart in the fashion world was the utter seriousness with which he took his job—sometimes at the expense of the business’s social niceties.
He also explained how deep his investment in the work was. Right from the get-go, Klein saw what it meant to work hard.
His father, Leo—who’d arrived in the States from Budapest at age five—was often absent, because of the long hours he put in at the family grocery store, on Lenox Avenue in Harlem.
After a show, for instance, there is always the protocol of going backstage to schmooze the designers. In one sense we were appealing to Wall Street, trying to be a real business, where you’d say, ‘It’s a business that’s not emotional—it’s all marketing, it’s all figured out.
It’s almost a tribal rite practiced by most of the big shots in the business. Once, after a men’s-wear show in Milan in 2000, he just turned his back on me and marched off. You don’t have to worry.’ But let me tell you, it’s very emotional, it’s very personal. By the time [a show] was over I just wanted to go home and be by myself.”This is a reason that Klein’s name has transcended the field of fashion: for all its commercial savvy, his work has, indeed, been highly personal, a product not just of its times but more specifically of the way the times influenced the designer. What went on in the mid- to late 70s—when he became an international celebrity hanging out at Studio 54, a designer who reinforced America’s arrival as a fashion force and set the retail world on fire with Calvin Klein jeans (and his controversial commercials featuring a sexed-up teenage Brooke Shields)—is the most extreme example of this interplay, but it has really been true of his entire career.
As Klein talks candidly about the trauma of letting go, Ingrid Sischy connects the fashion icon’s life to his designs. ” Adding to the embarrassing public nature of it all, the New York City Council soon passed a “Calvin Klein” bill, which increased the fines for unruly fans who interfere with games; one of the most powerful names in fashion was now associated with streakers and bottle throwers.
Those who were closest to Klein had for some time been anticipating a D-day on the substance-abuse front.
”There was also reason for concern on a more personal level.
I’ve known him well for about 6 years, and casually for 12 years before that, and I can just picture him playing the scene over and over in his head the next day, torturing himself.
Our first taped session took place in Southampton at his large, turreted Gothic mansion, which sits on one of the best sites on Long Island, facing both the ocean and Shinnecock Bay.
The designer had recently finished temporary renovations, removing every arch, squaring off planes, getting rid of all the pink and black and gold—wiping out all traces of the monstrous renovation executed by a previous owner—and coating the whole place in a Calvin-approved shade of white (it’s never simply white), so he could bear to live in it while he figured out what to do with the joint.