In 2003, after having sold the all-American brand that bears his name, Calvin Klein stepped down from his role as creative director, leaving seriously big shoes to fill. In walks Francisco Costa, an unassuming, small-framed, 39-year-old designer with soft, boyish eyes from Brazil. Yes—the new crowned prince of minimalism was from the land of Carmen Miranda. But how, exactly, would a culture packed with glittering Carnaval parades, explosive colors, and voluptuous chica-boom-boom curves make its way to a Calvin Klein mood board?
The truth is, Costa had left Brazil for New York at age 21, and his impressive résumé—with five years at Oscar de la Renta and a couple more working for Tom Ford at Gucci—indicated that the designer was the right man for the job. Still, he was Brazilian, and he represented something far different from the postcard images of a country that people knew so much less about a decade ago. “The fact is he came in, established himself, and stayed on for 10 years. There were no musical chairs,” observes Costanza Pascolato, the “Grand Dame of Fashion” (as my fellow Style Map contributor Jorge Grimberg so eloquently described her in his recent post) “He has such an incredibly perfected notion of what is form and proportion, and executes it with admirable rigor.”
Over the years, Costa drew worldwide attention as one of the most successful womenswear designers in the world, winning two CFDA awards, and, in his ever discrete way, helped to break the stereotypical image of a purely tropical-chic Brazil. After all, this is the land of legendary architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx.
Art and architecture are at the core of all of his creations (and ever present on his Instagram). “It’s like he is both the architect and the engineer of the building at the same time,” says Pascolato. So when Ellsworth Kelly decided to re-create a dress he designed in 1962 out of his paintings for his 90th birthday, Costa was the natural choice. And when Richard Meier’s daughter Ana wed my friend Daniel Creighton, Costa was chosen to design the wedding dress. The white column dress with clean, almost perpendicular straps wrapping her shoulders was so perfect it seemed to have been sown on her body.
Calvin Klein whites and off-whites are timeless and iconic, but Costa is not afraid of color. Who can forget the emblematic lime-green gown that Elle Macpherson paired with effortless flats at the 2005 Met Ball? Or the ridiculously low-cut back of the burgundy column dress that showed off Gisele Bëndchen in all her post-baby glory at the BrazilFoundation Gala in 2010? And what about the simple red dress that revealed bombshell curves of young and mysterious Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence?
With Gisele Bündchen at the BrazilFoundation 2010 Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; with Vogue Brazil’s Donata Meirelles at the amfAR 2011 Inspiration Gala in 2011; getting the amfAR award from friend Claire Danes
When an actress choses to wear Calvin Klein Collection to a red-carpet event, she is showing the world that she is on the right track to becoming a serious fashion icon. If we could do a 10-year reunion class photo of frequent Costa-clad girls, we would find at least a handful of Vogue-dictorians—those who graced the coveted cover of Anna Wintour’s magazine. There is an art to carrying Calvin Klein Collection, and Diane Kruger, Claire Danes, and the wondrous Rooney Mara have mastered it to perfection. After all, going for less-is-more is as bold a move as it gets on the red carpet. It takes real star quality to stun with simplicity.
As Pascolato so gracefully puts it, “Life should be like haute couture. When it turns inside out, it should be as flawless as the image of seeming perfection reflected on the outside. That is what Francisco’s work is—flawless inside and out.”
Congratulations on your 10-year anniversary, Francisco! Thank you for making me feel like perfection on the most important day of my life. My heart and soul are at 50 Varick Street today. Te amo.
Photos: Courtesy of Paula Bezerra de Mello