Calvin Klein Talks Kate Moss Controversy and His Underwear of Choice

calvin klein speaks at 92nd street Y

Photo: Joyce Culver for 92nd Street Y

Calvin Klein at a rare public speaking appearance at 92nd Street Y

From that scandalous Brooke Shields commercial to the Spring 2012 collection, Calvin Klein—the label—is a force to be reckoned with. And even though Calvin Klein—the legendary designer—is no longer the man behind the company, he can certainly be credited with its success.

On October 17, Calvin Klein sat down with industry insider Fern Mallis at 92nd Street Y in New York City for a conversation on his life and work—from his Bronx beginnings to the iconic brand he built.

“I knew from the time I was 5 that this was exactly what I wanted to do,” Klein said, noting that he was very close to his grandmother, a dressmaker on 7th Avenue. “Most people [in the Bronx] didn’t understand—they were playing baseball and I was making sketches.”

One fellow borough resident probably did understand: Ralph Lauren (born Ralph Lifshitz), who came from a neighborhood nearby and who, Klein remembered, “dressed in a peculiar way.” Were they friends growing up, Mallis wondered? “No,” Klein laughed, “he’s much older than I am!” (Inquiring minds: Klein is 68, Lauren is 72.)

Though he soon found a job as a sketcher for a suiting company, Klein said he knew that his own company was in his future. “I always had this sense that I wouldn’t be understood—I had to do it myself,” he revealed.

“It isn’t just the clothes, it’s about the world of style and communicating that to the world,” he said. And though he was nothing if not dedicated to his company, Klein said that even then he had a sense that he wouldn’t be involved forever.

“I wanted to create something that would go on long after I wasn’t personally involved in it,” he said.

Klein insists that he doesn’t follow what the company does today; he doesn’t attend runway shows or read reviews, though he does have a financial stake in Calvin Klein, Inc. However, when Mallis asked what it’s like seeing his name on billboards and T-shirts all around the world, he admitted that he considers how he would have done things.

“If I were doing it, I would do it differently,” he said, “but I’m not doing it.”

Mallis also asked about the so-called “waif” model movement in the ‘90s, sparked by Kate Moss in many of his Calvin Klein Underwear campaigns. “I just thought it was so distasteful,” Klein said of the previous trend of buxom, often implanted models. “I was looking for the complete opposite of all that glamour.”

As for that underwear? Klein says he still wears it—sometimes. “I wear other people’s underwear, too!” he laughed. “I still want to check out the competition!” Klein also laughed about something his daughter Marci Klein once said of the unmentionables: “Every time I go to bed with a guy, I’m looking at my dad’s name on their underwear!”

All part of the global brand territory, we suppose.