Transparency, Reflection, Light, Space

Part One: Italo Zucchelli of Calvin Klein Collection 

"There is so much snow here, it's crazy," Italo Zucchelli tells us, laughing. We're sure he's gazing out the window of his New York City studio, but having been grounded during the snowstorm earlier that day, we've resolved to do our interview over the phone. Not that it's fazing him. Zucchelli recently celebrated 10 years at the creative helm of Calvin Klein Collection - drawbacks like these roll right off his back.

Zucchelli, it seems, can find inspiration in almost anything. For Spring 14, he harnessed the Light and Space art movement of the late 1960s, citing American artist James Turrell as his main inspiration. The influence translates effortlessly; clean lines, slim shapes, a clever sense of modernity, and every shade of blue you can imagine. Celestial cloud and sunset prints are a nod to Turrell's Skyspace installations, which Zucchelli references with esteem. "They're almost like a shamanistic ritual," he says, solemn. "You let go of time and it becomes this meditative space."

It quickly becomes clear how thoughtfully Zucchelli approaches just about everything in his life, creative process included. In part one of "Transparency, Reflection, Light, Space," he tells us about interpreting Turrell's work, rejecting the word "futurism," and the Calvin Klein man of the future.

We loved your Spring collection. The references to James Turrell’s work were so beautiful. Did you get a chance to check out Turrell’s exhibition at the Guggenheim last year?

I did! But also I went to see it again in Los Angeles like a month ago, so it was a double treat!

You enjoyed it?

Yes, of course - he's a master. The way he works with light is very otherworldly. We also did a collaboration with him years ago when we celebrated our fortieth anniversary with Calvin Klein. John Pawson built this structure [around the High Line in New York City] and in the basement, James Turrell did a light installation. It was amazing.

Did that firsthand experience, working with him and seeing the exhibitions, shape the way you approached your collection?

Yes. His work really resonates with me and with the aesthetic of Calvin Klein. It's very clean, modern, sophisticated, bold in its use of colors. It's... uplifting.

James Turrell has said that his art is very much about perception. How do you think people perceive your clothing?

I think they see my clothing as being very masculine, with a sort of futuristic edge. Actually, futurist is not a word that I love - it has a kind of "outer space" connotation. I prefer the term modernist. Attuned to the moment of now.

How do you perceive the people that wear your clothes?

The Calvin Klein man is confident. His style is unfussy, but there's something unexpected about him.

Would you say he's similar to you in that sense?

For certain reasons like the unfussiness, definitely. I'm a designer - and as designers, we tend to wear the same clothes every day. I don't want to think too much about what I wear.

One of the concepts that James Turrell encourages with his art is for viewers to move more slowly, to contemplate art rather than to just look at it. Do you think this applies to fashion?

To get the attention of the fashion industry for longer than a minute is very difficult, it's wishful thinking. James Turrell offers you an experience. You can attempt that with fashion, but art, especially James Turrell's, is on another level. It has another power, another gravity.

With runway shows, I think offering an experience is a little more possible. You've spoken previously about balancing the fantasy world of your shows with the realist world of the man you’re designing for. Can you tell me more about that?

I like real clothes, but you have to add that extra element that gives you a bit of magic. So with the Spring collection, we wanted to stay within the realm of the Calvin Klein aesthetic, but add that magic element - I think the sweaters and the cloud prints really achieve that. Magic is what fashion is about.

I agree! The fantasy is what makes fashion so intriguing. I think magic is a good word to describe it.

Of course. It's all about magic. For me, the secret is trying to create that magic in a way that is believable. That's what I mean when I talk about that balance.

Are you a dreamer or a realist?

Both. Absolutely both. I'm a dreamer because if you don't dream, you don't create anything. It all starts with a dream. But the important thing is taking that dream and making it real. A dream that stays a dream is not enough.

One of the things you’ve touched on previously is gender roles in fashion - in the region where you grew up, those conventions were quite clear and strict. Nowadays, there’s much more of a grey area. How do you envision the man of the future?

It's sort of a contradiction. I like to portray a man that is very masculine. In the future, I think there will be more integration of femininity into men, and masculinity into women. Will this translate through clothing? Through behaviour? I don't know. But it will definitely be a spiritual thing.

Do you think the new wave of young designers is challenging the kind of man, and the kind of menswear, that Calvin Klein has typically represented?

They're just presenting another face of fashion. It's very exciting to see this new, more androgynous side of fashion. It’s refreshing. I'm not dogmatic in that sense. There's no one right way in fashion.

Androgyny is actually something that initially drew you to the world of Calvin Klein, correct? How are you keeping that legacy alive?

Calvin had a very wide reach. He expressed a different kind of sexuality, on different levels of the brand. For me, I like a masculine man, but I did a collection maybe four years ago where I exposed the midriff, or in another, I put the men in leggings.

Not quite breaking the rules, but bending them.

Exactly. It was a twist on masculinity.

I mentioned the word "futurism" earlier, and I know that you said you're not particularly inspired by that kind of connotation. It was actually Tim Blanks who first called your style "sublime futurism."

Tim is a friend, and he knows my obsession with music and that my favorite movie is Bladerunner. So, he likes to go back to that! Futurism is another one of those words that can have a thousand meanings. I like the word futurism when it expresses a longing to the future. Forward-thinking. Innovation. Never seen before, never been before.  

Fast forward a century or two, and imagine we're living in outer space. What does the fashion look like?

I really hope that we'll invent clothes that will make us disappear! It's the most minimal you can go!

So, in that imagined outer space future, when its inhabitants look back on your current designs for Calvin Klein Collection, what do you think they'll say?

They'll probably think about how handsome these men look! Who knows, but I hope they'll think they looked good!

And what will you be wearing?

Oh, probably the same outfit every day...but with invisible shoes!

Photography by Lea Colombo