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Italo Zucchelli x Calvin Klein x London Design Museum

In an exclusive interview with Dazed Digital, the CK designer talks about his S/S12 collection, what minimalism means today and his involvement with LDM architect John Pawson

Last Week, in the midst of the Frieze Art Fair frenzy, Calvin Klein Collection flew in its top brass design team into London  to host a dinner in honour of the new London Design Museum venue. Creative Directors Francisco Costa and Italo Zucchelli hosted the event, together with Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic and architect John Pawson, in the iconic 1960s Commonwealth Institute building where the museum will house design artifacts when it opens in 2014. Once completed the museum will offer three times as much exhibition space as the current Shad Thames location. Ahead of the event, Dazed Digital sat down with menswear head honcho Italo Zucchelli to talk about his latest collection, what minimalism means today and role of high-tech fabrics and bright colours in a Calvin Klein Collection show...

DD: You're in town to celebrate London Design Museum moving to a new venue. In what way are you and Calvin Klein involved or why?
Italo Zucchelli
: Because architect John Pawson is redesigning the inside of this new Design Museum. We have a very long relationship with Pawson, he designed Calvin Klein stores in the 90s. We decided to do something together to give a glimpse of how this space is going look when the design museum opens in 2014.

DD: What is it with Pawson and his aesthetic that works so well with Calvin Klein as a brand?
Italo Zucchelli
: We both find inspiration in solitude or in empty big natural spaces. There is also a link, in design terms, between us and John because it is about clothes that are inspired by timelessness and that are modern, that are about clever design, that are functional. We always talk about how important functionality is for me with the clothes, for him it's the same with the spaces. The aesthetic of the brand works really well wit his aesthetic because John Pawson, as an architect, is about timelessness, good design, simplicity and the M-word... minimalism! It's a love/hate word, because today its too easy to use that word.

DD: Yes and I suppose you’ve heard it a few times...
Italo Zucchelli
: I understand how it made sense in the 90s because it came out through Calvin and Jil Sander as a reaction to the 80s and I understand that after that age of opulence and excess, gold and silver and sequins and the war in the Gulf, everything was more clean and minimal. I understand why that word defined that era in a way in design and in fashion but today it’s still a valid word but at the same time it's quite…

DD: ... dated? Bu maybe there is this new surge in minimalism as a response to all the stuff that’s happened in the Noughties; another war, bank crisis etc?
Italo Zucchelli
: For sure but the minimalism of today to me is different, I’m talking about in fashion terms. It looks simple but its not as simple as it looks, there’s something more it.

DD: Do you think it’s a more complex minimalism? Is it a maximal minimalism?
Italo Zucchelli
: In reality minimalism isn’t even the hardcore one. We were speaking with John and it's actually quite complex because to achieve simplicity, you have to go through a process. And to achieve simplicity without being boring is also very challenging that’s why the minimalism of today might look simple but if you look twice it's actually more complicated than at first sight. It’s the fabric, there is something to fabric, or the colour, or the construction is special or maybe that is what differs the minimalism of today from the one back then.

DD: Can you talk us through the menswear collection that was shown in Milan in June...
Italo Zucchelli
: It was about a sort of exaltation of three dimensionality so that’s why there was a lot of textures that were almost coming out of the body. There were pieces made of nylon that was laser cut so that they were opening as models were walking, it was kind of moving.

There was a print that was like a digital print that almost looked like a digital moving like pattern. At the end of the show there were two or three pieces that were made of this material that was like little rubber squares, mounted on a mesh that again had a very textual effect and made to look very modern look. It was about texture and very graphic, very sporty.

DD: Did you use any visual references anything, like colouring etc that you can trace back to something?
Italo Zucchelli
: Usually when I put together a concept I definitely use images. I wouldn’t say that there was something specific. A lot of people see bits of Bruce Weber or the Olympics in what I do. Weber definitely is one of my usual references but not particularly in this collection. Somebody wrote it was about space but it had nothing to do with space so it’s interesting how people interpret it.

DD: But this is good though, because you can now do an interview after all the reviews and put the record straight!
Italo Zucchelli
: Yes! It's just interesting to see how some people see things I definitely like but isn't in every collection. Bruce Weber is the master of 'American-ness' in photography and definitely in me there is something that goes back to that. But it was not necessarily in this show.

DD: How do you as an Italian see your relationship with America and American culture?
Italo Zucchelli: It's a guilty pleasure! I moved to New York City which is not like the rest of America in that sense. New York is a very peculiar entity. I have had an American citizenship for the last three years, so I've became an American, but all I’m saying is that for me its really the city, New York in particular, the city that I call my home! There is a lot of richness to that country, too. I have a European background, which I still use and apply in my work but I think actually combining this very European background with the immediacy, the easiness, the attitude, which is more American, with simplicity and practical skills... I think the two things combined are actually very interesting.

DD: Do you think that fabrics and hi-tech materials is the last frontier, in menswear at least. The bit where we have yet to kind of explore fully?
Italo Zucchelli
: I don’t want to say the last frontier because you never know which other frontiers could be explored. But definitely, for me, it has been an interesting tool to play with, and in some collections I did it to a very extreme extent and in others I used it less. A suit and the shape is very familiar, the object is very familiar and I update it with an interesting fabric. I usually tend to be quite sleek fabrics, meaning that visually when you see it on a runway it's razor sharp, and I like that very much.

DD: Can you pinpoint a few fabrics that you know where man-made, or something that you kind of pushed the boundaries with, in the S/S12 collection.
Italo Zucchelli
: There was that material that’s not even a fabric actually. It was a material that I created that I was explaining before that was formed of this mesh with little rubber squares that were mounted on it. And basically it looks like a tile - it's actually like haute couture as each square was applied on the mesh by hand and it was really light weight and sculptured at the same time, very light weight to wear. Technologically it was quite an advanced technique to put into clothes.

DD: There are always a lot of monochrome shades in a Calvin Klein collection. But there's often a dose an injection of colour as well, like yellow and green this season. Would you say it almost works as an antidote to minimalism?
Italo Zucchelli
: I really like this definition, 'antidote', I really like it and I agree with that but at the same time I think it's also a good companion, because when I use colours they tend to be quite bright and at one point I used a fluorescent and I think they are quite graphic. And minimalism, or what this house is also about, is the design, the vision is quite graphic and the strong colour allows me to do something quite graphic, especially if it’s monochromatic in an outfit. Last Autumn Winter we had like a Klein blue suit that was graphic and I think it’s a very good companion to the aesthetic of minimalism.

DD: There is also often a lot of oversized items in your shows. For you, is that all about comfort and functionality?
Italo Zucchelli: Absolutely. Menswear has to be about comfort and functionality. I would never put a pocket here just for the sake of design. If I design something, let’s say a pocket or something new and unusual in a garment, it needs to be functional especially in menswear.

DD: So for you, functionality is more important than being conceptual?
Italo Zucchelli
: No, I think that they can go together. But I think that you cannot bypass functionality and  the shapes... I like the generosity like being a little bit, as you said, oversized. There is a sort of generosity to it, of richness to it I like. I’m enjoying working with more of these shapes I also think that fashion evolves and I think in this moment it is quite right for now. So that’s what I am actually moving towards.

DD: Only a few weeks ago I was in New York and saw the Calvin Klein Collection womenswear show and it felt very sleek and elegant, it had more formal eveningwear aspects than the menswear collection.  How do you feel the menswear sits alongside the womenswear, it's obviously not competing, but is it completing?
Italo Zucchelli
: Today, I think the men’s business and the women’s business are really different. The clients and a lot of brands do vary within the same design, but in this case we are two different designers. But even in some brands with the same the same designer they sometimes do very different things. I think they complete each other and in terms of fashion statements sometimes it’s different. But of course there are collections where maybe they go more towards the same aesthetic. Like this one you know they were probably more apart but there is definitely always a link to it.

DD: It’s interesting how a big brand with both womenswear and a menswear fit them next to each other. Not just Calvin Klein, but look at Dior and Dior Homme for example… they are so opposite!
Italo Zucchelli: Yeah they are actually opposite. And the Prada collection sometimes they are the same concept sometimes are very different.

DD: That’s an interesting example, but that brand has one designer doing both menswear and womenswear...
Italo Zucchelli
: Businesses, now more than ever, are so different and they have to have different outlets and ways to communicate, it's sometimes like that even within a brand where there is one designer doing both, but you can see there's a different approach to their menswear and the womenswear...