The Visionary: Calvin Klein

The Model Says So Much. I didn’t want actors or celebrities because I felt that they were their own personalities—they were their own people. . .Calvin Klein

When I was asked to have “the chat” with Calvin Klein, of course, the first thing I thought of was “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” Brooke Shields! Legendary! If ever there was an image and a line that both aroused and amused at the same time, that was it.

I remember being 15 years old and hanging out at Fiorucci on 59th Street during the summer. (Coincidentally, I used to buy my monthly copy of Interview from Sweet Bea Productions, the magazine concession there.) One Saturday, I was downstairs, and there before me was Calvin Klein with his daughter, Marci. I ran over to him and told him I was a huge fan. Calvin probably doesn’t remember, but I do. I saw him amongst the beautiful people at Studio 54, and a couple of years later, when I was spending some time with my boyfriend out in the Pines, the house that we were staying at was close to Calvin’s. I remember the sexy, young Adonis Robert Iannucci would come in from the water and walk across the beach …

Everyone in Calvin’s world was gorgeous. Sexy. Sensual. Beautiful bodies. Silky skin. Perfection. Calvin’s clothing seemed to be all about the sensation of touch and the provocation of getting naked, and the imagery that he used to communicate that changed the worlds of fashion and advertising. The images were always chic and never vulgar, but often controversial. His choice of models (Shields, Patti Hansen, Lisa Taylor, Tom Hintnaus, Christy Turlington, Marky Mark, Kate Moss, Natalia Vodianova) and the photographers who shot them (Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, Steven Klein, Mario Sorrenti, Steven Meisel) projected everything seductive and sublime about his underwear, jeans, fragrances, and, of course, his fashion.

I know all of the images and all of the models so well—as well as all of the moments—that to hear Calvin talk about them in depth when we sat down to do this interview, as he flipped through his iPad and offered detailed accounts of how the pictures and the campaigns all came about and of his passionate involvement in their creation, was heavenly. What I probably enjoyed the most, though, was the chance to get a little bit closer to Calvin. I’m no longer 15, but I’m an even bigger fan now. –Marc Jacobs

MARC JACOBS: So nothing comes between me and my Calvins, right?


JACOBS: That’s probably the first thing I associate with you.

KLEIN: I’ll show you the first thing we did, though, because that wasn’t the first one. That was the first big thing.

JACOBS: Well, it was the first thing that I know I got a real rise out of. It was so provocative.

KLEIN: That campaign was so interesting because it was indicative of the way I worked with everyone both before and since. It started with me deciding what I wanted to communicate, who the right photographer was, and then the model. I started my own in-house agency from the day I started my business, so I always had really good creative directors. Bea Feitler was the first—she used to be with Harper’s Bazaar. Then there was Rochelle Udell, who used to be with Vogue. Then Sam Shahid, who was her assistant at my place, took over. And then Fabien [Baron]. So the creative director was automatic. But the key was the photographer, the model, and then the hairstylist, the makeup.

JACOBS: And the Brooke [Shields] ads were shot by [Richard] Avedon …

KLEIN: Yeah.

JACOBS: How did you find Brooke? Where was she in the world at the time?

KLEIN: Francesco Scavullo used to do a lot with her. She was a child. Dick and I used to drink a bottle of vodka every night with Doon Arbus—Doon was the writer and Diane Arbus’s daughter—and we would create this stuff together. Right from the beginning, we knew that the person we were talking about had to be childlike and that it had to be some kind of an actress. Brooke had done some things at that point, but she hadn’t really done too much. I remember having a conversation with her mother at about three o’clock in the morning …

JACOBS: Teri … The ultimate stage mom.

KLEIN: She would call me at two or three o’clock in the morning all the time. We made a deal for a contract, she and I. But Brooke was just great. I spent a lot of time with Dick and Doon, trying to figure out what she would say and the character and trying to make it with a sense of humor—you know, give it something, because it was about denim. But in those days, like, crêpe de chine …

JACOBS: But it was you. The images are always so sensual and sexy and provocative. Whether it was jeans or underwear, whomever the girl or boy was, it was always this Calvin Klein sensuality and sexuality and provocation. But it was never vulgar.

KLEIN: That was the key. But to take all of this creative talent and work with them as a team to try to do something that would make people stop … Because this started to become big business.

JACOBS: I remember. I mean, the Brooke thing was parodied everywhere.

KLEIN: But the Patti Hansen ads actually came first.

JACOBS: Those were from around the Studio 54 days.

KLEIN: Yeah. Patti was the first one with the jeans, but then we went on TV with Brooke Shields …

JACOBS: And it blew up.

KLEIN: The Dow Jones, which is now over 15,000, hit 1,000, which was a major thing at the time. But on the front page of the Daily News they put in big print, DOW JONES HITS 1,000 and CALVIN KLEIN IS THROWN OFF THE AIR. [CBS had rejected the Brooke Shields spot, which featured the then-15-year-old actress reclining and uttering her famous line, after deeming it too suggestive.]

JACOBS: It’s interesting because I think about all of the images and all the girls—and the boys—that you’ve used over the years to say what Calvin is, and some of the controversies that have resulted. I think of Brooke being baby Brooke and saying, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” I think of the Kate Moss “heroin chic” thing. I think of the imagery it all conjures up.

Taking a Chance, Taking risks with the photographers and the models… often we had a plan. But then other times, it was like diana vreeland just sending people off.Calvin Klein

JACOBS: Yeah, the kids in the paneled rooms from the mid-’90s.

KLEIN: That was Steven Meisel.

JACOBS: I remember the controversy over that. And Bruce Weber, all the boys—the homoeroticism. So my personal question for you is this: Did you sit down and try to stir things up? Was it premeditated? Was there a rebellious drive to provoke with all these great creative minds that you collaborated with? Or was it something else?

KLEIN: I swear, I did not try to do anything that was distasteful or offensive. I often just came to the photographers with a person who I was obsessed with.

JACOBS: Which is the way to go. I remember Robert Iannucci back in the day … I remember seeing him on Fire Island when I was 17 and having a very hard time standing up. [laughs]

KLEIN: He and I became very good friends. No one had a body like that—and then these kids grew up wanting to have a body like him. But I went on all those shoots. I did the styling with Bruce.

JACOBS: You were modeling at the time, too.

KLEIN: Yeah. I go back to a day when designers like Bill Blass worked for Maurice Rentner.

JACOBS: In the back.

KLEIN: Yeah, they worked in the back room. But when I came along, which was at the same time as Ralph [Lauren] and Donna [Karan] kind of emerged, things were changing, and I thought that people needed to know that there was a person behind all of this, and that person is the designer who is creating these things.

JACOBS: I think that you and Halston, actually, were the two people where I would say that it was really your life and your aesthetic and your vision that was being sold. With you, it was more about an aesthetic, the dream of this beauty—those bodies, those faces.

KLEIN: I always wanted the fabrics to feel sexy on a woman’s body. Back in those days, the clothes I was making were influenced a lot by lingerie, then I would mix it with tweed. But the models had to be able pull that off, too. So, in the beginning, it was girls like Lisa Taylor, Patti Hansen, Roseanne Vela, Janice Dickinson, Shaun Casey, going back to the late ’70s and early ’80s. Those models had never done runway—no print models did runway at that time. But I thought, “Well, if I’m going to project this idea …”

JACOBS: Well, those girls were large personalities. They were sexy women who you’d see out in clubs.

KLEIN: They were drop-dead gorgeous.

JACOBS: They weren’t arched, hands-on-waist girls.

KLEIN: And it used to be that the runway model would stop in the middle of the runway—

JACOBS: And turn and take off her coat …

KLEIN: Used to make me ill.

JACOBS: Cringe, I’m sure. It was the antithesis of what you were about.

KLEIN: I didn’t even care if the models knew how to walk—it didn’t matter. I wanted them to just be and appear. So these print models who hadn’t done runway were terrified at first. But then they got to really enjoy it because there was suddenly an audience instead of a photographer.

JACOBS: The people you’re talking about, though—the girls you just listed—they all had amazing character. Patti is an amazing character. Janice Dickinson is an amazing character. And then the guys …

KLEIN: I used to find them on the street. I used to stop my car. The boy who introduced the underwear, Tom Hintnaus—I was driving on Sunset Boulevard and screeched the brakes because I saw him running. I got out, introduced myself.

JACOBS: So these people didn’t necessarily come to you through traditional casting.

KLEIN: Well, later on, they started to when the shoots got bigger and we were working with more people. But each one is a different story. Lots of times, I just stopped them on the street. We did a thing once for APLA, in Los Angeles, and I think we used hundreds of guys and girls. It was an unbelievable show at the Hollywood Bowl, and they were all people who Kelly [Klein] and Carolyn Bessette had cast. They were just real, beautiful people. But I liked to discover people—I liked to find ones who I felt I could relate to. And often, I fell in love. I mean, I would fall in love with Christy [Turlington]. I would fall in love with Kate. I would fall in love with these guys. With each of the girls and the guys we worked with, it was a different story. But it was always the same story in the sense that I felt so personally involved with all of them. Otherwise, I couldn’t use them. I just wouldn’t be interested. Sometimes we were desperate and we would use someone for a fashion show—occasional filler people. But not for the ads.

JACOBS: Was the shoot with Tom Hintnaus done in Miami?

KLEIN: No, it was shot with Bruce in Santorini. I went on all the shoots in the early days. That shoot was the introduction for underwear, and it was about the body. When the face was turned away, it was always about the body. But then sex always came right back into it. You know, I collect antiquities.

JACOBS: You do?

KLEIN: Yeah. I have busts of torsos and arms and body parts. So it comes back to that, too. Sometimes the imagery is about the face, other times it’s about the body. But the guys … There was Sasha Mitchell. He was a boxer. Later, there was Michael Bergin. Carolyn would screen models and she came up with Michael. He was a really sweet guy and went on to have a really nice career. But the body was beyond. Joel West was another one.

JACOBS: Another beauty.

KLEIN: But, you know, later on, we were sending casting people all over the world. That’s how we found Travis [Fimmel]. Do you remember Travis? Let me show you him.

JACOBS: Show me a Travis. Show me any boys you’ve got on there. I’m very excited to look at men always.

KLEIN: I mean, I found him in a poolroom. He looked like James Dean at the time. But we’d have stacks of Polaroids to go through. I would get stacks and stacks of Polaroids, and then as soon as I came to Travis, I stopped and said, “Who is he?” They told me that he had just arrived in L.A. from Australia, that he was a surfer, and I said, “Do you think you can get him in here tomorrow?” So he walks into my studio, into my office, and it was like drop-dead … His presence was jaw-dropping. I called Steven Klein right away and said, “Don’t do anything. Just put him in the underwear and put him up against the window.” I said, “I want something just so plain, but maybe it has the line of a window or something. I think he’ll be great.” But you know, some of the guys we shot kind of flipped out over the pictures.

JACOBS: Oh, really?

KLEIN: Yeah. A lot of guys did. Travis went crazy when he saw his photographs. I said, “What do you expect?”

JACOBS: They were there doing them.

KLEIN: Yeah.

JACOBS: I guess it’s also people’s reactions that trigger stuff in their heads.

KLEIN: Do you remember Joe McDonald?

JACOBS: Was he a Zoli model?

KLEIN: Yes. Zoli used to live on Water Island. The models, the guys, were in the Pines. He was beautiful.

JACOBS: Seriously beautiful.

KLEIN: I had this apartment on 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place. It was all black leather, charcoal gray carpeting, white lacquer walls. Joe D’Urso did it. In those days, we were into shine.

JACOBS: I’m still into shine. Shine is my favorite color.

KLEIN: I mean, this apartment was lacquered.

JACOBS: I love it. But I’m for ’70s interiors all the way. I like the lacquer finish.

KLEIN: Well, that’s what I had. Anyhow, there’s a picture of Joe that was taken in my bedroom. And the girl was dressed in black vinyl and boots … The bedspread was black leather. It was all charcoal gray. It was industrial carpeting.

JACOBS: Joe D’Urso—of course. [laughs]

KLEIN: So I lived the way that they looked.

JACOBS: Well, that’s what I was referring to when you were talking about Bill Blass and Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. Donna, to me, represented this specific kind of career woman—that was her thing. And Ralph was more about the fantasy of a kind of life. But with Calvin, it was about the aesthetic of you. You and Halston had this thing where the aesthetic revolved around you and your tastes and your choices—and that extended to the makeup, perfume, interiors, everything. That’s always what I think of as Calvin.

KLEIN: There was always that sensuality to whatever we were doing.

JACOBS: You know, it’s a funny story. You won’t remember—there’s no reason why you would. I think I was about 16 or 17 in my first teenage years at the Pines. I’d won the Chester Weinberg award when I was at Parsons, and I know that you and Chester were great friends.

KLEIN: We were very close.

I used to find them on the street. I used to stop my car. The bOy who introduced the underwear, Tom Hintnaus—I was driving on Sunset Boulevard and screeched the brakes because I saw him running.Calvin Klein

JACOBS: In fact, you won’t remember this at all. But first, when I was 15 years old, I was hanging out at Fiorucci on 59th between Park and Lexington, and I saw you with your daughter, so I went up to you and told you what a big fan of yours I was. So then when I was 16 or 17, I had a boyfriend, and I was going out to his house at Fire Island, and you were in a house very close by. So I saw you and Robert and Chester out there … But you didn’t know me—I just saw you.

KLEIN: The house that I had on Fire Island was one of the sexiest houses I think I’ve ever owned.

JACOBS: Well, it was also the sexiest times in the history of the world.

KLEIN: It was amazing. But the house was the ultimate hedonist house. I mean, it was made for sex.

JACOBS: On the ultimate hedonist island.

KLEIN: I thought, God, this works perfectly—wave them in, whatever. [both laugh] Actually, it turns out that a book just came out on Horace Gifford, who was the architect who did a bunch of houses on Fire Island. I bought the house behind me, tore it down, and worked with Horace, who was a beauty when he was young … He had modeled—there’s a picture of him in the book. But the book talks about how he built these houses because he lived on Fire Island for the lifestyle, for what everyone wanted out of the Pines. So the houses were built for that. It’s so interesting because clothes, makeup, everything that we do—it all comes from somewhere. It’s a reflection, hopefully, of what you want, or what you think people want. But it has to come from you in the end.

JACOBS: That’s what’s so amazing about these images and what you’ve always projected. It’s so rare that a designer has created that kind of voice with a very particular style—it’s just you. The reason I mentioned Fire Island is that I remember going to the Botel. I looked up to people who were a few years older than me—I was 15 or 16, and they were 19 or 20. But it seemed like all of them wore crêpe de chine shirts and jeans and a beautiful chain … Everyone looked chic. There probably were a lot of people who weren’t, but the world looked like a very Calvin world to me at that time. There was an aesthetic that I looked at and just thought, That’s what sexy looks like.

KLEIN: Well, first of all, the Pines was about sex. The gay world congregated on Fire Island because of the freedom that they had there that they didn’t have elsewhere—maybe in after-hours clubs in New York or in trucks on the West Side Highway. But for the most part, you could be totally free out there—and they were always ahead of the curve when it came to clothes and style and interiors.

JACOBS: Aesthetics.

KLEIN: Fire Island represented that.

JACOBS: But that’s what I mean. I remember coming of age at that point and looking around at the world, and there was this thing that really registered to me as that Calvin aesthetic. You could wear a T-shirt, a pair of jeans, and your hair pulled back, and there was a cleanness and a freshness to it but it was still sensuous and sexy. It wasn’t religious or cold, which is what minimalism became, or something monastic. It was sensuous—and like you said, very much about touch and feel and body. What about Christy? She was in so many of your campaigns.

KLEIN: I’d always seen Christy as the epitome of the woman who was my woman—the woman who I wanted to dress—whether it was when she was 17 or today. I had her under contract when she was still in her teens. They just don’t come finer than her, I don’t think.

JACOBS: On every level—the heart, the mind.

KLEIN: That beauty comes through, though. It’s an inside job there.

JACOBS: Christy is back working with the brand again.

KLEIN: Yeah. She was just on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

JACOBS: This notion of putting models under contract and having exclusivity—that was always a very Calvin thing.

KLEIN: It was.

JACOBS: It’s interesting because lot of people change who they use every season—I know that we do. But you would always have a relationship and build up this sort of story with the models.

KLEIN: I had this thing about how repetition is reputation. I don’t mean repetition in a bad way, but a certain continuity. Now, you and I have talked before about how you’ve managed to become this cult thing in the fashion and style world by changing constantly. But I did it somewhat differently. I did it by communicating this idea through the models, the photographers, the marketing, the clothes, the accessories. There was a thread that you could see from the very beginning to the end, because that’s who I am.

JACOBS: I imagine that would make the choices even more important, because it’s then not about the whim of “Oh, I like this person.” You’d really have to live with this choice. So then you go from Christy to Kate, who both wind up being around for a long time, but they’re obviously very different people.

KLEIN: Around the time we were starting to show at the tents in New York, I went to the Paris shows for the first time—just to see what it was like to show in a big venue because we’d always showed in showrooms. We had large enough showrooms to be able to do that.

JACOBS: I dressed one of those shows when I was at Parsons. 

KLEIN: Did you really?

JACOBS: Yeah. I dressed Iman for one of them. She was the first model I dressed.

KLEIN: Amazing. So you remember what it was like. But when I went to Paris, I saw a lot of the same models in all of these shows—not that I went to that many, but I went to enough—and the shows themselves didn’t look that special to me anymore. At that time, the girls were also building up their tits and doing things to their bodies that were really awful. So I thought, “It’s time for a whole different look.” I remember talking to Patrick Demarchelier, who I was working with a bit then. I said to Patrick that I liked a particular French actress, a tiny waify thing. So I was thinking about her. But then one day, Kate walked into Patrick’s studio and he said, “I think I found what you’re looking for.” So he sent her over. And that opened the door for me, to a whole different type of girl. Instead of the really built ones—

JACOBS: The glamazons.

KLEIN: What happened is that when I met Kate, and she told me that she had a boyfriend, I said, “Who’s the boyfriend?” And she said Mario Sorrenti, and I said, “What does he do?” She said, “He’s a photographer.” I said, “Oh, why don’t you ask him to come up. I’d like to meet him.” So he comes up and he shows me his stuff. Obsession was going down in the toilet that time—the sales were really sliding—and the fragrance company said, “You have to do something.” So Mario walks into my studio and he’s got a book with him. So I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Those are my private pictures of Kate.” I said, “Really? Can I have a look?” And I look at the pictures and it just says to me Obsession—he was obsessed with her. So I said, “Why don’t the two of you go to an island alone and you just photograph her and let’s see what happens.” And that’s how I got all of it. I just got so much from Mario and her. Taking a chance, taking risks with the photographers and the models … Often, we had a plan, like, with Dick, when we were doing Brooke and commercials, you had to have a storyboard and the whole thing. But then other times, it was like Diana Vreeland just sending people off.

JACOBS: Well, sending off very well-chosen people with a great amount of intuition. [laughs] Not just randomly sending people off.

KLEIN: But we did it … In that case, I just wanted something different and Kate epitomized that. But at the same time, she had this real sexy quality and she was clearly a good actress. She could do whatever one wanted. But I was always trying to appeal to a wide range of people: gay, straight, young, old—especially for jeans and the fragrances and underwear. So Kate was the young, new, cool one. Christy was the epitome of—

JACOBS: Forever. Eternity.

KLEIN: Exactly. And so the model says so much. I didn’t want actors or celebrities because I felt that they were their own personalities—they were their own people.

JACOBS: What about Mark Wahlberg and those underwear ads? How did that happen?

KLEIN: Well, he was a rapper at the time, if you remember, but he was just about finished. One day David Geffen was at my beach house and we were going through magazines and we saw a picture of Marky Mark and he had my underwear showing out from the top of his jeans. So we said, “We should get him.” We sent a plane to Boston for him and had him come down to the beach, and the three of us—David, Kelly, and I—took him to dinner. I was dying because I’d never heard anyone talk about a pair jeans the way he did. He was like, “These are the jeans that I wear on my first date, and these are the ones I wear if it’s really casual and I don’t care …” He had it all categorized in a way I’d never thought about. And then his body … I mean, you and I are both gym fanatics, but his body was perfection. It’s so interesting because that has nothing to do with height.

JACOBS: No. In fact, short muscle fiber is always much more round and voluptuous.

KLEIN: Yeah. But he was so great. So, immediately, we did a contract. I didn’t want anyone else. But he was trouble …

JACOBS: Was he?

KLEIN: Oh, my god. He and Kate couldn’t stand each other.

JACOBS: I bet. Well, Kate doesn’t love a lot of people so much … She’s very picky. [laughs]

KLEIN: I had a tough time with her, too.

JACOBS: With Kate?

KLEIN: Yeah, from the very beginning. She had gone through some difficult times, and it sometimes came through in the work and in the attitude … She ended up being really great, though. But the earlier stuff was part of that whole opposite wave …

JACOBS: Anti-glamour.

KLEIN: Yeah. Anti-glamour.

JACOBS: Those ads were quite controversial because she was so slim. But I never could have imagined that you did it from that angle.

KLEIN: I did it because I wanted to do something that was new and exciting—and yes, push the envelope. He, though, was getting into fights with everyone. I would talk to him all the time and say, “Mark, you’ve got to stop it.” This was after the ads came out.

JACOBS: After the images came out and he became every gay man’s heartthrob.

KLEIN: Yeah. But he was a wild one, a wild card.

JACOBS: Which was what was good about it. [laughs]

KLEIN: I’m attracted to it.

JACOBS: Well, I guess most gay men are, too. Availability makes some men seem less interesting somehow … Well, that’s my opinion. I like the ones that are slightly unavailable. [laughs]

KLEIN: The ones that are on the edge.

JACOBS: It’s the same with women, though. Sexuality aside, there are these women who are just extraordinary to look at, but who can have that? It makes them into goddesses and gods.

KLEIN: And some of the women, too … Listen, I will tell you stories about Janice Dickinson.

JACOBS: Well, I think we could tell each other stories about Janice Dickinson. Although, Janice has probably told most of her own stories at this point.

KLEIN: She was out there, though—there’s no question. Patti was pretty wild, too.

JACOBS: Nowhere close to Janice, though. I remember meeting Patti at Studio 54. But Janice was quite a piece of work—great, but a piece of work.

KLEIN: I always felt I needed really incredible women near me when we were making the clothes, too, because I wanted them to tell me how it felt.

JACOBS: Did these women you were around inspire you often to create?

KLEIN: Well, Kelly and Carolyn Bessette. But I had different women in the studio doing different things. Kelly was a designer. She had worked for Ralph Lauren before me, and I would say, “How does it feel?” Or you could tell if it was falling upon them in certain ways. I found Carolyn Bessette in a store—we had a store in Boston. I took one look at her and said, “Come to New York.” She was in the PR department.

JACOBS: I remember. I met her when she was working with you. Narciso [Rodriguez] was working with you at the same time because that’s when I met him. When you met Lisa Taylor, who was in some of your earlier campaigns, or Patti, for example, did they ever influence the things you designed? Did that play a part in how the clothes took shape?

KLEIN: Not so much, no. But you know who the one model who—

JACOBS: Was a muse?

KLEIN: She wasn’t a muse, but the one person who understood clothes better than anyone I’ve ever worked with was Dalma [Callado]. We would do fittings with her, and she could tell the patternmaker what was needed. But the models then were chosen based on where we were headed.

JACOBS: I just wondered if the reverse ever happened—because, again, the lifestyles of some of those girls must have been very exciting. I often feel very inspired if I’m out with Kate, for instance, and she spills something on her slip, and she dries it on the hand dryer in the bathroom and she takes it off. I find that kind of gesture to be very Kate and very inspiring. [laughs]

KLEIN: When I was going out, I would go out with Patti Hansen, with Janice, with that group—Lisa Taylor, and those girls. But after that period—the Studio 54 time—came Kelly, and I was ready for change. I had enough of that insanity. Fire Island, I was ready to put behind me. But those girls did inspire me in different ways. I feel like you have your own aesthetic, you have everything that comes from you, but you do get something from them. You have to. Otherwise, I think there’s something missing because women are wearing the clothes. The Obsession thing … We had to do Obsession for the body.

JACOBS: Was Lisa Marie in that one?

KLEIN: Yeah. We put all of the models together. It was a bunch of them, so it wasn’t like each one was so major. But it was for men, too. The idea was that guys would be interested in all of these bodies. Then we did Eternity with Christy and Lambert Wilson.

JACOBS: The actor?

KLEIN: Yeah. That campaign was based on when Kelly came to my office and I fell in love with her. Eternity came out of that. Christy was supposed to look like Kelly, Lambert was supposed to look like me, and the campaign was this love story. Then there were children—which was another thing. There was the idea of Eternity, what the word means, and that life goes on. We thought that made sense—or, again, was a reflection of the model. Lambert wasn’t too macho-looking—this was around the time when men were really taking care of children, taking an interest. They weren’t just working while the wife raised the children. It was a big change. Some of them even stayed at home and their wives went to work. But we would do market studies on fragrances, and then we would try to figure out how what we’d learned could be applied to my life to make things more personal. So if we were working on a campaign for something that was more outdoorsy, like a sports fragrance—as opposed to romantic or sexy fragrance—then we’d go to St. Bart’s or somewhere to be outside and find the right models for that. Do you remember Carré Otis?

JACOBS: Another favorite of mine. She was with Mickey Rourke. She was amazing.

KLEIN: So special. We were always trying to come up with something for jeans or underwear—something that had an edge—so we did that campaign with Carré and Marcus [Schenkenberg]. Then we did something Lisa Taylor as she got older—she was one of my all-time favorites … Steven Meisel had started photographing women.

JACOBS: What about the ads that Steven did with the kids in the wood-paneled rooms where the president got involved?

KLEIN: Clinton.

JACOBS: How did those happen?

KLEIN: Well, I’ll tell you the story. We were all sitting around a big table—we had Steven, Fabien, Alex [Gonzalez], and Raul [Martinez], everyone—and they were presenting to me their idea for the new jeans campaign. They were telling me this idea about a mosh pit—that image was going to be someone who is being carrying through a mosh pit. And I was sitting there thinking, I don’t know how to say this diplomatically, but I did this, like, 12 years ago with Bruce. So I was looking around trying to think of what to say, and all of a sudden, I saw a picture on the wall. So I said, “What’s that?” And it was just this simple shot of someone against a plain background. So I said, “What would happen if we shot people like that in that kind of environment and they were all wearing denim and then we did commercials where we talked to them and interviewed them?” Steven said, “Would you really do that?”

JACOBS: Well, that’s the funny thing, because, again, I remember when I saw those ads, I thought, “You’ve got balls.” [laughs] Because anybody who doesn’t see those as voyeuristic kiddie porn or whatever … Of course, I was looking at pictures by Larry Clark at that point. So was Corinne Day. Everybody was interested in this grungy, street-rat kind of thing, so it was appealing. I mean, sneakers and socks with cutoff jeans is trashy, but it was good. It did cause quite a scandal.

KLEIN: It’s interesting, though, because when we did the thing with Brooke years before, we’d look at it and we would laugh. The spots were funny. If you had a sense of humor, they were really funny. I mean, yes, they were sexy and provocative, but they were also funny. Well, so were those ads that Steven shot.

JACOBS: I thought so. But what was going on in the world at the time?

KLEIN: The Justice Department was on it because we showed a crotch shot, and they thought that one of the girls was 17—or under 17. She was 21, though. We probably went too far with those.

JACOBS: It was probably just a little early, that’s all. Because I think the world has caught up. It was probably too much at the time.

KLEIN: But you have to be right at the right time.

JACOBS: I know, it’s always about that. Too early or too late is not going to win you anything.

KLEIN: After that, we did something with this actor who turned out to be a big star.

JACOBS: Justin Chambers from Grey’s Anatomy.

KLEIN: Right. I saw a photograph of him someplace that reminded me of a young Marlon Brando.

JACOBS: I can see that.

KLEIN: The fragrance didn’t do all that well, but he did. And we worked with Carolyn Murphy, who is wonderful.

JACOBS: Yeah, she’s great. I just worked with her on a campaign last season.

KLEIN: She’s such a class act. And then Natalia [Vodianova] was the last one.

JACOBS: Tell me about Natalia. You shot her with Steven Meisel, too, right?

KLEIN: Yeah. I was working a lot with Steven at the time. I wanted more things going on and to not make it simple. But you can do so much with Natalia.

JACOBS: Yeah. We photographed her pregnant for my Marc by Marc campaign. I love her.

KLEIN: I do, too. Steven shot the last one with Natalia that I really was in love with. The guy in it reminded me of that guy from—

JACOBS: The Blue Lagoon [1980]? What was his name? 

KLEIN: Christopher [Atkins]—I used to see him at Studio 54. But the guy we used for those ads with Natalia was an athlete. I had wanted David Beckham, and we had discussions with David’s people and they said, “You can have him for the rest of the world, but you can’t have the U.K. because he’s too popular.” I said, “We do business in the U.K. What am I supposed to do there? Use someone else?” So that was a no. They weren’t ready. So we got this other guy instead.

JACOBS: He looked great, though.

KLEIN: When you put Natalia with someone else, it just makes it. She’s incredible.

JACOBS: I don’t know if there’s anybody on your radar today or if you follow who’s out there right now, but there aren’t really models on Vogue covers anymore, for instance.

KLEIN: Well, they don’t sell. It’s mostly Hollywood celebrities now who are on covers. But if some really amazing models with big personalities came along and were on the covers of a magazines and they sold and people were interested … It’s cyclical. It’s difficult for me to talk about now because I don’t have that personal contact. I needed that. But there will always be models. I don’t know about magazines, I don’t know about print …

JACOBS: People will always want to look at youth and beauty.

KLEIN: Models will always be around. It’s a question of: Will they be on film? Will they only be seen on iPads? I suspect they’ll always be seen live, too, as long as stores have to buy clothes.

JACOBS: You’ll need models for makeups and perfumes. Image is what sells anything.

KLEIN: And not just in the style business.

JACOBS: People need to look at things. It’s what simulates you—what you see.

KLEIN: It’s so interesting when you create things, too, how important they are. These people all help the creator communicate what it is you’re trying to say. I know that when I used to do looks and fittings, I’d always switch things up. We’d line up the Polaroids and think that so and so is good for this and so and so is good for that, and then I’d be switching around, driving myself nuts. But you know when something is right. No matter how beautiful someone is, if everything isn’t right for that model, then you have to find the right thing.