A MODERNIST’S TALE. Creative director of Calvin Klein menswear Italo Zucchelli speaks to Gabriela Yosefina about the evolution of menswear, working with Drake and basic styling advice
Italo Zucchelli at Calvin Klein Collection fall/winter 2014/15 celebration
Today’s fashion industry is not afraid of exploiting adjectives, to the extent where many appear to be losing their meaning. Words such as elegant, contemporary and modern, for example, have been stretched dangerously thin to describe almost every new collection seen on the runway. While sometimes this is unavoidable (there are afterall only so many words in the English language), there is one particular designer who takes the honesty of the word “modern” very seriously indeed. Responsible for incorporating real modernism into fashion, his name is Italo Zucchelli. The intellectual Italian has been at the helm of the men’s division of Calvin Klein Collection for more than a decade now. Staying true to the founder’s principles, Zucchelli strikes a balance between minimalism and sexiness in the creation of edgy menswear designs.
Zucchelli’s affair with menswear started with a two-year tenure at Jil Sander following a post at Romeo Gigli. Then, he took direction from Calvin Klein himself for six seasons before eventualy becoming the creative director of menswear when Klein left. In an interview, Zucchelli mentioned that he initially wanted to stay in the fashion house for a short period only, but it was Calvin Klein himself who insisted that he stayed. That decision proved to be the right one as, in 2009, the warmhearted designer received the accolade he deserved: a CFDA Award for Menswear Designer of the Year.
Zucchelli poses with the models during the fall/winter celebration
Aside from upholding the sartorial legacy, Zucchelli is not afraid to inject his own personality and signature into the collections. Under his design genius, the house embraces more vibrant hues than before and hosts intriguing conversations between dressy and sporty, as well as masculine and feminine, all the while experimenting with new technologies and toying with the aesthetics of men’s bodies. These are particularly notable in the past two seasons, where Zucchelli brings out sky prints, luxe crocodile pieces and literal emblazonment on the runway.
Off the runway, the designer remains as dynamic as ever. He works with the hottest rapper du jour, Drake, for the tour wardrobe. He enthusiastically browses for new music. He replies to people’s comments on his Instagram. Yet on top of it all, he remains friendly and open—he beams as one initiates a discussion about Calvin Klein. One way or another, Zucchelli is living the Calvin Klein life: carefree, creative and absolutely modern.
One of the key looks of this season’s collection
Gabriela Yosefina: Hi Italo, how would you describe your typical day?
Italo Zucchelli: My typical day involves working at different stages of making the collections. We have pre and main collections, alongside the additional work of styling and production. So everyday we’re designing, fitting or doing a handful of different things.
GY: You’ve been working with Calvin Klein for almost fifteen years. What changes in the brand have you see over the years?
IZ: The fashion world has changed in general. It has been an evolution, especially with the emergence of the internet and everything digital. Nevertheless, there are core messages and elements of the original concept, which Calvin created, that remain super relevant today.
What I’ve been doing this whole time is building new elements for this iconic American brand. I always keep in mind its clean, sexy, modern aesthetics. That way, I also aim to present Calvin Klein to a younger audience. And these fifteen years have been very exciting so far.
The finale of the F/W 2014/15 collection
“When you do a fashion show today, you’re always going to think about how the clothes will look like in pictures because in an hour it is going to be all over the Internet”
GY: What do you think about changes in menswear then? We are seeing more and more “feminine” touches being injected into men’s clothes, not to mention the emergence of gender neutral clothing on the runway these days.
IZ: What’s great about the development of menswear today is that there are a lot of different possibilities. But for Calvin Klein, I always keep the masculine element quite strong. Maybe there are times I experiment with some feminine details, but the end result is supposed to be very masculine. And when I say feminine here, it could be a color or pattern that actually can no longer be categorized as solely feminine. As a matter of fact, I’d like to expand the vocabulary of the brand’s menswear line altogether.
GY: It is interesting that you mention vocabulary, because there are literally bold, strong words displayed on the fall/winter pieces.
IZ: “Obsession,” “Eternity” and “Escape” are the names of our fragrances. Personally I think “Obsession” is the best name ever given to a fragrance. I really wanted to emulate something iconic of Calvin Klein this season, and I came across these words that I like. They are also still very relevant today. They reflect an era we’re living in. Let’s face it, we live in an obsessed world and we are all self-obsessed. Everyone is narcissistic. But at the same time, we need to escape and we want to be eternal.
GY: How do you usually get inspirations?
IZ: From everywhere. It can be a trip, a person, a movie, a moment, a piece of art. It can definitely be music—it is a very good source of inspiration for me. Overall, I’d say I’m like a sponge. I stay very informed and look at a lot of things. New things, old things, anything, because inspiration always comes when you least expect it. Sometimes it comes in the middle of the night and I have to take note or write it down. Sometimes, I also take inspiration from my dreams.
GY: Before becoming immersed in fashion, you studied architecture. Does it influence your design?
IZ: Everything I’ve ever done influences me. Maybe I don’t precisely know how, but it somehow does. Architecture, for instance, is not only about designing buildings. It involves textures, colors, shades—basically the same elements you encounter in fashion, too. However, architecture is also about precision, the mathematical aspect of it that is. From there, I consider myself as someone creative who can be mathematical on certain occasions. I want things to be precise. On another note, I think it is very important to innovate. You can’t be too stiff. This is a brand having its base in modernity, so it is essential to look forward and create new things.
Drake during his tour, wearing custom Calvin Klein Collection
GY: Calvin Klein has indeed always been modern and minimal. Yet how do you tie those values in when creating sexiness?
IZ: When I do a show, I make sure that I balance the elements of sexiness and attractiveness. For instance, I cast very good-looking models with great bodies, who are undoubtedly attractive. However, they also have to be able to embody sophistication and elegance. The clothes themselves, I make sure that I don’t go overboard with shapes and stiffness. The clothes have to be real, people have to be able to wear them.
GY: Let’s talk about working with celebrities. You’ve been busy designing Drake’s tour wardrobe, and in the past you’ve dressed Kanye West.
IZ: Everything just simply happens. They actually came to me. Kanye, for instance, went to the store and became very intrigued. Then, he contacted me and we started to talk about things. It was a long time ago and since then, I’ve dressed him many times.
With Drake, I met him at a party when his album was going to come out a week later. He told me that the album cover had his face on it with the sky in the background. What a coincidence, I thought, and our conversation soon unfolded as he knew I designed T-shirts printed with sky photos. The next thing I knew, we were working together.
Preparing wardrobe for the tour has been an exciting project so far. There are requirements and factors I need to consider, such as how many times he needs to change, how the clothes should fit when he is dancing, or how he can be comfortable in the clothes even though he is sweating during the performance.
GY: You said that music is one of your biggest inspirations. In what way does it inspire you?
IZ: I’ve always been into music. I listen to music all day long. Being some kind of music obsessive, I read a lot of conceptual music magazines. When I am on the computer, I am most likely researching music somewhere. I am a frequent visitor to some strange websites to discover new music [laughs]. Don’t ask me what kind of music. It is hard to tell, but I like obscure stuff, instrumental or electronic tunes. They just inspire me. Music evokes feelings, and that is why it is interesting to work with musician or artists.
Rappers, particularly, love to look different, to look new, to look modern, to push the envelope. It is exhilarating and totally different, mostly because I know that I have this real connection with them. Drake told me that now he is very happy on stage. The clothes make him feel confident, and that makes me really thrilled. It feels great that my clothes can stimulate confidence from within.
GY: Moving to the topic of digitalization in fashion, everyone has access to fashion shows now. Does it affect your way of preparing a collection?
IZ: When you do a fashion show today, you’ve always got to think about how the clothes will look in pictures because in an hour it is going to be all over the Internet. It doesn’t mean that you stop doing certain things, but you will certainly think about it beforehand.
The fashion audience is simply huge today with the majority going to see things first online. Fashion shows used to be exclusive, but now everybody can see them either in pictures or through live-streaming websites. So you have to put that into the equation. And don’t get me started with social media. When we did the last show, our feeds and mentions were flooded—which is positive, really. It is a form of advertising, the best form there is. People appreciate what we present on the runway and share it with others. I even respond to some people who follow me on Instagram as many ask me where they can get the pieces. I don’t always reply, but I sometimes do.
The bold “obsession” sweater backstage
GY: Since you mention the distribution questions you get asked, Calvin Klein has finally expanded in Asia, with four Calvin Klein Collection stores. What do you think of the market here?
IZ: People are certainly going to be more aware of the brand and buy the clothes. I think this part of the world is very vibrant. People are open to fashion and they are also eager to adopt new things. It is definitely the right time for us to expand there.
GY: How do you portray the men who are wear Calvin Klein? Do you have particular people in mind when designing?
IZ: I think about the confident, masculine, real man who lives, travels and works. He wants a wardrobe that can equip him to transition into different moments of his life effortlessly. We live in a world where we want to wear clothes that can be worn in the office, then in the evening or in a restaurant. I’m constantly thinking about this, a versatile wardrobe.
GY: Last question, how do you see the future of Calvin Klein?
IZ: We are assuredly going to open more stores, so people in different parts of the world will perceive the brand better. Additionally, we also want to connect to a younger audience. That is the future. Because, let’s face it, everybody wants to feel and look young. Therefore, we’d like to bring Calvin Klein to a younger audience who can grow with us.
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