The Museum at FIT presented a peek “Inside the Designer’s Studio” with Francisco Costa on Monday evening. Luckily, the museums chief curator, Dr. Valerie Steele, interrogated Mr. Costa rather than James Lipton. FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre was packed with students looking for inspiration and advice from Calvin Klein’s successor. A shock of reality hit me when I suddenly remembered the last time I was inside that venue – to see Gianni Versace. I was a student at that time and felt as much hope, excitement and awe as the students that awaited Francisco Costa.
The stage was set with two simple chairs and a long table covered in a white cloth. The table supported two microphones and a plain vase holding three or four dozen white roses. Minimal. Elegant. Very Calvin Klein. A video screen showcased the Spring 2009 runway collection until Mr. Costa and Dr. Steele entered and exchanged greetings.
Costa spoke of his Brazilian heritage and the influence of his mother who was a dressmaker. He talked about putting on fashion shows for charity as a young man in Brazil (once using his dentists daughter as a model), and he “bragged” about the burgundy safari suit he made himself to attend an important function at the time. After High School, in 1983, he moved to Rio and from there to New York in 1986. At the time, Costa didn’t speak a word of English so he enrolled in classes at Hunter College to learn the language all the while taking evening design courses at FIT. Apparently, he had learned enough English to read a flyer on FIT’s bulletin board for a contest sponsored by IdeaComo. He entered and was selected as one of fifteen students to receive a scholarship.
From that point, Costa has led a busy, and sort of, charmed life. Fresh out of school, he landed a job with a dress company but was quickly swept up by Bill Blass. He migrated to Oscar de la Renta in 1993 and created a line called “Pink Label” while he was there. In 1998, he moved to Italy after being recruited by Gucci where he collaborated with Tom Ford on the well-known Cher-inspired collection. In 2002, love brought him back to New York. The distance was difficult on his long term relationship and Costa joked, “I either had to find a new job or a new boyfriend.” Klein’s partner, Barry Schwartz contacted Costa, set up an interview and Costa joined the company as Senior Designer. In 2004, after Calvin’s retirement, he took over the role of creative director. He went on to win the CFDA’s Womenswear Designer of the year in 2006 and again in 2008. His modesty surfaced again when he said, “I thought that the first time may have been a fluke and felt more validated after receiving the honor a second time.”
Francisco Costa is a gentleman. He is a soft spoken and humble man who is genuinely grateful to his mentors, supporters and his alma mater (FIT). He absolutely loves what he does for a living and reiterated that fact many times. After he answered questions for anxious audience members, Dr. Steele asked him where he saw himself in the next five or ten years. “Hopefully, still doing this. And more of it,” Costa replied.