>> Francisco Costa, Maria Cornejo, and Yoehlee Teng touched on everything from model casting to celebrity dressing to eco fashion last Thursday night at the Cooper-Hewitt museum in New York as part of the “Voices in American Fashion” panel, moderated by The Washington Post's Robin Givhan.
Costa, who is known for his unique show casting, voiced one vision for a Calvin Klein show that he hasn't yet fulfilled — street casting. "I wish to be able to just go into the streets and just start going. As a concept, I would love to do that someday."
Cornejo rebutted: "I have to say, the first show I did in New York, I did have all real people, only one model, and it bombed. The editors do not want to see the clothes on real women. It's more exciting for them [to see the clothes on models]. They want to be able to say: 'Oh, I shot her last week.'"
Both designers agree, however, when it comes to using young models »
The most recent Calvin Klein show featured 39-year-old Stella Tennant, 33-year-old Kirsty Hume, and 43-year-old Kristen McMenamy walking among the typical teenage models; Costa explained the casting choice was meant to reflect his customer:
"If you think of the waif movement, Calvin [Klein] started it. I think we've lived with that mindset for quite a while, and I was very intimidated by changing that because that was such an association with the house. It was a very conscious effort to change in the past two years, to give it a twist, to make contact with the customer, because in reality, no 16-year-olds are buying my clothes — she's 45. I love to think my customer is 45 because that's the woman I want to dress. It's the moment when a women is so comfortable with herself. That was the intent, to bring models who were wonderful then and are still incredible now."
In fact, Costa continued, he's less enthralled with using such young models now.
"The greatest thing about Calvin is that he never looked back, it was always the next, always the future, always the fresh, the youngest. That's why the brand has such longevity, so I think that's something we always keep in the back of the mind, 'What's next?' Ultimately, you go and look for the new model, and the new model is a young model. But it became a little too formulaic for me, and I felt like I needed to talk to the customer, talk to the woman who wanted the clothes."
Cornejo, too, is less than thrilled with using young models, but says that for a small business, it's difficult to do otherwise:
"It's very hard, especially if you're a small company, to do a show, because you're basically dealing with the models that the agencies are sending you, and they're only sending you the new girls because a lot of the girls who are older and more mature refuse to do the shows — they don't want to be put next to the 16-year-old girl who just arrived."
"Most of the time I say, 'You're too young, you're too skinny, you're too pretty, my daughter is older than you.' I don't want to endorse that idealism of a girl when I have a teenager. I don't want people to think, 'Oh my God, she's got an 18-year-old [daughter] and she's sending 15-year-old anorexics down the runway. But it's hard, we don't have the budget to cast somebody, fly them in and get them to just do that show. A lot of the older girls don't model anymore, they only come out by special appointment. The agency just sends you all the girls who are just trying to get into the business."
Then, talk turned to the press. Cornejo, who said she prefers to read her National Geographic subscription over fashion magazines, explains:
"I'm 47 and most of the time I personally feel totally alienated by fashion magazines, I don't even want to look at them. Anybody can make a 15-year-old model look good. It takes a lot to make a 47-year-old look good. There's just this really big disconnect. I always say to my assistants, 'I can't wear this to Trader Joe's.'"
She added: "We're not advertisers so we don't get any press — basically the clients, what they [buy], it's a very heartfelt in a way because it's not sold on press or advertising."
Costa, meanwhile, comes from a different camp: "I think all press is good press."
"But I feel sometimes they [the press] kill things before they happen. Because by the time [the products] get to the stores, they've been so overexposed — because everybody shoots the same dress — it's old, nobody wants it. I think that's why some of the pre-collections are doing better than the main collections now because they don't get as much press, so they have longevity."
But Costa sticks to his guns, pointing out that celebrity dressing has worked well for Calvin Klein: "[Eva Mendes] brought a whole different customer to us. A more Latino, ethnic customer. It's a great marketing tool. I think it's very important, it's not frivolous, it's business."
He doesn't feel the same way about celebrity designers: “It’s always our responsibility [as designers] to be challenging — to challenge our customers and to innovate our trade. Otherwise, this one has a line and J. Lo has a line — everybody can have a line and call themselves a designer. But I think that’s kind of demoralizing for our trade.”
Also demoralizing to the trade, according to Teng: the unaffordability of sustainable fabrics. “There is something wrong about having to spend more money to build something sustainable. Something has to be done nationally.”
Cornejo added: “Only big companies like Target and Wal-Mart could [make it more affordable]. And if they did it, it would trickle down to us."
Full video of the panel here.