& # 39; People ask why sustainability is so important to me, and it goes back to my mother. I grew up in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Very rural, very mountainous. It's like being in Vermont. My mother was a very enterprising woman who owned a shop selling textiles and later children's clothing. We were in the middle of the Brazilian countryside, and yet she always had her hands on a matter of Vogue. Go figure. My mother had no formal education, but by the time I was born, she had 125 employees. And so I grew up with scissors in my hand and played in her factory.
What really made me jump in (fashion as a career) was that my mother passed away. I was 19 and my first thought was that I had to leave the country and go to the US. Just like that. With the cash my dad gave me, I moved to New York and took English lessons in the morning at Hunter College, and continued my FIT courses in the evenings. It came easy to FIT, I am very good with my hands. My first job after FIT was at a company called Susan Bennett – it was very strange. The person who hired me got another job a week later, but would come back at night to supervise my work. Eight months later, he finally asked me to work with him at Bill Blass. It was an incredible opportunity – Bill Blass, an iconic American designer, in the same school as Oscar de la Renta.
I worked there when Herb Rounick, CEO of HE-RO Group, owned by Bill Bass, called me to his office. I was freaked out! But he still offers me a job. HE-RO has just acquired Oscar de la Renta and he wanted me to go there. I told him that I thought I couldn't do it, and he replied by sending me a letter saying, "Once was a shoe salesman president of the United States. Don't be afraid, you are very talented. & # 39; It was so sweet. So I went to Oscar and worked there for about six years and created the pink label, which was cheaper.
If you think about the fashion industry and its (environmental impact), it's crazy – it's the second largest polluter in the world. Starting this business, I felt the responsibility to send climate change in another direction.
After Oscar, I went to Gucci with Tom Ford. After a few years there, Calvin (Klein) called me in for an interview, but I refused. Just after that I got another offer to go to work for Oscar, when Oscar designed Balmain – I said yes. But then my lawyer said do not take the job because Balmain didn't have money! So I had to tell Oscar that I can't do it. I looked like this: & # 39; Oh my God, what am I going to do now? I just quit my job and said no to another job! & # 39; But then I was happy. John, my partner, is in the horse industry. Barry (Schwartz, co-founder of Calvin Klein, Inc.) is also in the equine industry. They were talking one day, and Barry told me to call Calvin again. When I found out that Calvin had one of the last collections I did for Gucci, and that (his then wife) Kelly was a fan. And that's how they hired me.
I succeeded Calvin as the creative director. I was so scared of the brand itself, because I thought everything it had done before was so perfect. Calvin was so central to fashion, after what American fashion represents. It was minimalist, home to purity and cleanliness, and I had to go into it. The biggest difference between what Calvin did and what I did is that I felt more like a reductionist than a minimalist. Edit, take things down and leave out the essentials, as opposed to the large-scale experience and editing. So I got the post, and after my first collection of Bridget Foley (Executive Director of Women's Wear Daily) killed me with her review. It was the worst thing that ever happened to Calvin, and I was scared. But the The New York Times the day after. And that was a glowing review on the cover! When I knew it was going to be a crazy ride.
I exhausted a few collections, and the next thing I knew the business was selling. The overhead was great and the entire staff fired. Everyone. Calvin employed 200 people on the collection alone. My idea was to license the business and I had to build a new team overnight. I didn't know what I was doing, and no one outside knew what I was going through – it was kind of insane. But when I started, the company valued $ 700 million, and 13 years later when I left, it was $ 8 billion – I'm very proud of that.
Costa Brazil got pregnant before I left Calvin. I knew I couldn't just go to the lab and pick my name on something. I wanted the beauty of creating a textile, something unique. I was inspired by the works of Piero Manzoni, an Italian artist who had a very peculiar approach to design – high concept and low execution. I based the brand on it and searched for ingredients. The result is what our & # 39; n & # 39; jungle complex & # 39; with three constituents – breu, cacay and kaya. This is now the basis of every single thing we make. I learned about ingredients in the Amazon when I found out about brewing. It comes from the largest species of trees in the Amazon, and if a tree is touched or chopped, it will naturally release a resin as a self-defense. The (indigenous people) burn it all day and night, and it smells of burning wood, but not so bad. The second ingredient, cacay, is the refined oil you can find in the Amazon. Through Conservation International, I learned that harvesting it has a tremendous positive impact on the livelihoods of this community on the Colombian / Brazilian border. The third ingredient, kaya, comes from a Brazilian tree that blooms pink – it's crazy. With the jungle complex we have two rituals. One is a body and skin ritual with a face and body oil. And then we have the breathing ritual with a resin and candle. And we've just introduced a waterless body cream. We now have five products, but we have 20 products in the pipeline. It's a clean, powerful, purely designed brand.
I've been involved with Conservation International before, and CI gave me the foundation to understand that I could do things through them. I didn't know about deforestation, and things like that. If you think about the fashion industry and its (environmental impact), it's crazy – it's the second largest polluter in the world. Starting this business, I felt the responsibility to send climate change in another direction. There is no reason why beauty cannot be clean. And really, there's no reason why fashion can't be clean. & # 39;
– as told to ITG
Francisco Costa photographed by Tom Newton on September 13, 2019 in New York.