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A creative CK eye for top fashion

FRANCISCO Costa doesn't consider himself a fashionable person. The award-winning creative director of Calvin Klein Collection for women has in his own wardrobe nothing else but "jeans, T-shirts and white shirts."

"I wear either this or that, and I have eight tuxedos," he added during an interview when he was in Shanghai recently for a large-scale runway show held at Bund 1919, a former textile factory built in the 1920s in the remote Baoshan District.

It featured more than 70 international models, including top Chinese Liu Wen, Sun Feifei and Pei Bei, strutting the new fall/winter 2010 collections for all of the American fashion company's brands, including Calvin Klein Collection, ck Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein Underwear.

It was also the first time the company had organized a multi-brand runway show since 1994.

Growing up in the small Brazilian town of Guarani near Rio, Costa was born into a family with deep roots in fashion. His mother and father owned a clothing business.

He arrived in New York City in the early 1990s and, while studying English, enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) where his talent quickly earned him an Idea Como/Young Designers of America award, which led to further study both at FIT and in Italy.

He joined the company after working directly with designer Calvin Klein and other top design houses, Gucci, Balmain Couture and Oscar de la Renta. His debut collection for Calvin Klein was for spring/summer 2004 and he twice won the Womenswear Designer of the Year award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in 2006 and 2008.

Q: How do you like Shanghai compared with four years ago when you first visited the city?

A: I think the city is more built up. It feels like it has grown a lot and it's taller and somehow futuristic.

Q: Do you travel a lot? Where do you usually get your inspiration?

A: Yes I do travel a lot to attend all the events we do, to shoot advertising campaigns and also to oversee our manufacturing in Italy. My inspiration sources are often mixed. They can be a book, a movie or a location. For example, last time I was in China, I visited Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, where I found a lot of beautiful textiles that inspired me a lot. Walking along Shanghai streets can be inspiring, too. The buildings here have a balance between the old and the new.

Q: Your designs are often well structured, minimal and understated. And you seem to have a preference for black, white and grey. Do you think that you have a signature style?

A: I hope so (laughs). I think it's more like the DNA of the brand. Talking about Calvin Klein, you think of black, grey, white and those neutral colors. But we also do colors, sometimes. People love colors. For example, our last spring collection was very colorful. I try to stick to the basics of the brand but I also like to have a little bit of fun from time to time. I always challenge myself with different proportions and silhouettes, just like what Calvin did. I hope our collections are still very Calvin Klein but more "current." The market is so competitive that you need to offer new, interesting ideas, shapes and fabrics.

Q: What are the trends in the fashion industry? With the economic downturn, are fashion designers tending to be more "practical" instead of being fast-forward, avant-garde?

A: I think it's definitely come back to "serenity." Clothes are becoming more versatile. They can be worn for many different occasions. The clothes also have a sense of practicality and continuity. You can buy something one season which can be worn next season as well. I think fashion is heading back to the classics, with attention to great fabrics and great shapes.

Q: What kind of woman do you think loves and wears your designs?

A: I think she is 25 to ? 100 (laughs). She is confident, professional and intellectual. She understands fashion instead of being a slave of fashion.

Q: You have been awarded the Womenswear Designer of the year by CFDA twice. The awards are known to reflect the depth of accomplishment and enduring influence of American fashion. What is your understanding of "American fashion?" How is it characterized in your opinion?

A: I think American fashion represents a sense of practicality and independence. It caters to a woman who is independent, has a full life and she works. There is a TV series called "Mad Men," in which you can see how American fashion progressed and evolved from the puritanical way of dressing in the 1950s to becoming very sexy and assertive in the 1970s. What American fashion also reflects, in my opinion, is the mass manufacturing of clothes, which has helped to open fashion to a broader audience.

Q: How do you like the way Shanghai people dress themselves?

A: I did take a lot of pictures last time when I was here. What surprised me a lot was seeing couples walking on the streets wearing the same clothes. It happened more than once. I think that's really interesting.


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