A Surprisingly Candid Calvin Klein Opens Up

No subject was out of bounds when Calvin Klein sat down with Fern Mallis this week at the 92nd Street Y (92Y), the latest in her Fashion Icons series. In the rare public appearance, the designer was surprisingly candid, opening up about his ejection from a Knicks game in 2003, launching Kate Moss’s career, and his daughter’s sex life. Some tidbits…

On his big break…
I could make some samples at night and on weekends and then I would leave my job. The people I was working for figured out what I was doing and they fired me before I quit. So I took a little room at the York Hotel that had rooms for manufacturers who made clothes in the South. My little room was right opposite the elevator and, sure enough, one day the general merchandise manager from Bonwit Teller walked in. I showed him the clothes and he said, “I will have a buyer down here tomorrow, then on Saturday you will come up to the store and show the clothes to president Mildred Custin.” And he said, “You will then have been discovered.” I promise you this is exactly what happened.

On the Knicks incident…
I struggled with addiction and lots of people do. That was really a shameful, horrible moment. It had nothing to do with work. I’ve done enough therapy and enough work on myself. Addiction is not caused by stress on the job, even though lots of people in the fashion industry have suffered from the same problem. It’s not about the work. It has more to do with your childhood and lots of other things. You’re always in recovery. You’re always aware that this is something you don’t want to do, whether it’s drugs, sex, food. There are lots of addictions.

On advice for young designers…
You have to be convincing. Even if you’re not confident, act as though you are confident. That is the only way you can convince people to believe in what you believe in.

On Kate Moss…
The reason for Kate and this whole group of women I found that someone named “waifs” was because before that, a lot of women were getting breast implants and doing things to their buttocks. It was getting out of control. I just found something so distasteful about all that. I wanted someone who was natural, always thin. I was looking for the complete opposite of that glamour type that came before Kate.

On his relationship with his daughter…
She was quoted in Time or Newsweek to something of the effect of, “Every time I go to bed with some guy, I’m looking at my dad’s name on their underwear.” I said to my psychiatrist at the time, “I don’t think that’s very funny.” And he said, “Lighten up.”

On his new love…
I’m in a relationship. I fell in love with a young man who is a total athlete. And we went paragliding off Aspen Mountain about four weeks ago. That was a trip, let me tell you…He’s a great guy. I am now experiencing life in a whole new way, in a fresh way, through someone’s eyes who hasn’t seen the life that I’ve seen.

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