When you’ve been involved in fashion for as long as I have, you have undoubtedly met your share of interesting people. Some of them are even memorable; such as the late Zack Carr. While he may not be a household name, to fashion insiders (especially those of a certain age), we know him as a brilliantly talented fashion designer whose life may have been cut short, but who nonetheless, helped define American fashion for over 30 years, as VP of Design at Calvin Klein from 1973 – 1985, Principal Designer of Zack Carr Collection from 1985 – 1987, and then as Chief Creative Director at Calvin Klein from 1987 – 1997.
When a table mate at a recent Fashion Group Luncheon at Le Cirque introduced himself as George R. Carr (a writer, producer, director involved with theatre, cinema, and fashion), and said he was a brother of the late Zack Carr, I immediately blurted out, “I loved Zack” and was instantly flooded with wonderful images and memories. I will never forget those times when the Harper’s Bazaar fashion editors went down as a group to Calvin Klein’s 7th Avenue showroom to preview the upcoming collection.
|Zack Carr, the real talent behind Calvin Klein
Photo: Stewart Shining
It was always Zack, the front man, who regaled us with his inspiring words and marvelous descriptions. He was always so animated and filled with an unbridled enthusiasm, obvious passion, love, and pride for what he did.
|Zack Carr sketches of Calvin Klein designs|
And of course, there were Zack’s wonderfully expressive sketches. Upon seeing those sketches while he was a student at Parsons School of Design in 1970, Calvin Klein hired him to be a design assistant. And he was never without a sketch pad up until 2000, when, at the age of 55, he died of a rare form of cancer that left him paralyzed.
|Zack Carr by George Carr
Photo John Calcagno
As a loving tribute to his older brother, George wrote “Zack Carr” , a stylish and beautiful coffee table book filled with wonderful images of his work, his sketches, and photographs which included many famous names who were part of his intimate circle. Amazingly, George is the only surviving member of his family: in addition to Zack, his middle brother Peter, mother and father all succumbed to cancer. This inspired him to found The Zack Carr Foundation in 2001, which is dedicated to supporting the arts, assisting cancer charities, and an inspiration for the human spirit. But that’s not the only way he chose to remember and celebrate his family.
When the question arose as to what to do with Zack’s vast archives which were left to him (letters, photos, memorabilia, and of course, sketchbooks), he decided to donate much of it to The Parsons School of Design. But when a friend saw the 50 some odd Hermes sketchbooks filled with his drawings back in 2010, he convinced George that he in fact, had a “brand”, a “lifestyle collection”. George took advantage of his extensive fashion background (having served as VP of Retail Branding at Calvin Klein, VP Sales and Marketing at Calvin Klein Men’s Wear, and VP Retail Branding, Ralph Lauren Women’s Wear) and quickly went to work interpreting his brother’s sketches, combining them with his proud Texas family heritage. The result was CARR (www.CARRnyc.com).
In 2012, Ron Frasch, the former president and chief merchandising officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, gave him his first order to the tune of $20 million. He launched CARR Collection at Bloomingdales and CARR Men at Saks Fifth Avenue but unfortunately, he was forced to close one year later due to under capitalization. He is now seeking new investors “to become a partner for the big picture”. It’s obvious this is a very meaningful, highly personal venture, and a true labor of love.
When I asked what his wish list of retailers would be, he quickly mentioned Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman (the sixth floor” which is geared for women who “love fashion but don’t want to look as though they stepped off a runway”), Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys, and Nordstrom which he says has “great American energy”.
|George Carr at home with his collection
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner
George invited me to view the fall, resort, and Spring 2017 collections which fill his chic Chelsea duplex apartment/studio (he lovingly calls it Studio 55 in reference to his Studio 54 years). They are seemingly everywhere: on rolling racks, hanging on the wall, and displayed on his enviable urban/rustic outdoor patio (which would be a perfect place to host an informal presentation I opined). His designs have an unmistakable 70’s and 90’s feel (along with a bit of the 20’s and 30’s) and blend a subtle Southwestern aesthetic (an homage to his Texas roots) with New York City glamour.
In describing his aesthetic, he used the words: “luxe leisure”, “dressed up, modern, American sportswear”; “chic, sophisticated, simple, intelligent, and pragmatic” (let’s put it this way, it’s the exact opposite of Alessandro Michele’s over the top maximalism). “I always go for Beauty with a capital B” he said. “I don’t do ugly.” The legendary Sam Shahid, who was the art director of “Zac Carr” and serves as CARR’s creative advisor, has referred to it as a “thinking person’s collection”.
|CARR Judd City Coat|
Catching my eye immediately was the chic limestone bonded viscose Judd City Coat, $1450. George took out one of the many Hermes sketch books that belonged to Zack and showed me the very first sketch: a doppelganger for this coat. For Zack, it always started with the coat, as it did for Calvin Klein. In fact, it was a coat that initially put Calvin on the fashion map. In the 1960’s, Calvin Klein designed a collection of tailored coats and suits under his own label and together with his partner Barry Schwartz, they wheeled the rack into Bonwit Teller. The buyer was so impressed, he sent Calvin to meet with the store’s legendary president, Mildred Custin, who placed a large order. Calvin Klein Limited was on its way and the rest is history.
|Zack Carr Sketch CARR Marfa 4 pocket jacket in silver ribbed silk and wool|
Another standout is the military inspired 4 pocketed Marfa jacket in silver ribbed wool and silk, $1450. This is somewhat of a signature in the collection and has been interpreted it in a few other fabrics, including denim. It’s also included on his men’s collection, where it is a standout in burgundy leather, $1995.
|Leah Durner for CARR NYC displayed on his patio wall|
Then there’s the yummy 6 ply limestone cashmere cardigan, $1050 (which I immediately tried on and belted); the punched cotton black and white printed lace cotton sleeveless top, $450 and pant, $375; and the needle punch silk and wool cap sleeve silvery sheath, $1650. Owing to my love of modern art ( and graphic black and white), I also gravitated to the silk georgette “X” tank shift and road stripe cotton skinny jean designed exclusively for Carr by Leah Durner. The abstract artist collaborated with CARR on a resort collection (The totem collection), and it’s available by special order.
|CARR burgundy leather Marfa jacket|
In addition to the aforementioned leather Marfa jacket, other menswear pieces that grabbed my attention: the Empire evening jacket in a rich red cotton/silk velvet, $995 and the black Alamo jacket, $495, and lean jean, $195, both in American denim, $495.George sees “his guy” as James Dean and “his gal” as Gwyneth Paltrow and Audrey Hepburn. Gwynnie’s best-selling book, “
“It’s All Easy” (which also happens to be the CARR philosophy), sits prominently on a coffee table and there’s a black and white photo of Audrey hanging on his kitchen wall. The price range at retail is $450 – $2500 for women’s (everything is made in the USA), and $225 – $2250 for men’s. While the line is not unisex, George pulled a collarless white shirt and cotton trousers off the men’s rack and said he would put this “as is” into his women’s collection because it’s so perfect. He is planning to fill in with more ‘casual’ pieces and he feels strongly about the modern appeal of practical, versatile, multipurpose performance wear made of high tech fabrics.
|CARR equestrian inspired city boots by Lucchesse|
Accessories, which are shown with the clothes and also displayed separately on a table along with other artifacts and mementos, include totem jewelry (inspired by cow and horse skulls of family ranches, travels to Sante Fe, and homes of Georgia O’Keefe translated in sterling silver by Texas silversmith Clint Orms), and equestrian style CARR City boots in leather and patent made by the iconic Italian footwear company Lucchese.
When I asked George which designers inspire him (other than his brother of course,) he quickly rattled off the hallowed names: Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Chanel and specifically cited Coco’s elevation of the simple basics (the jersey knits, the little black dress, the cardigan jacket). He pointed to last Sunday’s ‘T’ The New York Times Style Magazine, “Fall Fashion”, which was sitting on his coffee table. The cover, featuring Kristen Stewart wearing a simple black turtleneck cashmere knit dress from Chanel, speaks volumes about “the power of simplicity”, as T editor-in-chief Deborah Needleman called it.
Speaking of Chanel, it’s not a widely known fact, but in the 80’s, Zack was being interviewed as Creative Director for the house of Chanel, before Karl Lagerfeld was hired. In addition, the prototype of the fluted French glass bottle with pewter cap which contain the fragrance, “Naked by CARR” bears a strong resemblance to the iconic, simply elegant Chanel No. 5. Zack had initially planned on doing a fragrance and it would have been named, “Z”. George said it was comprised of gardenia, magnolia, roses, and blended with the scent of “naked skin”. There is already a Naked Heart by CARR candle, made in France, which has a wonderful scent comprised of star anise, coriander, cut grass, and cardamom.
What struck me was how understated and chic it all looked, from the couture like construction and beautiful Italian fabrics to the color palette which is broken into primarily three groups: black, gray, silver; white, cream ivory; pink, red, burgundy, purple (in the case of the latter, they are ‘off shades’).
|George Carr’s clothing and artifact filled apartment|
There is nary a print or pattern but for an abstract “O’Keefe floral”.What also struck me was how “Calvin Klein” it looked, which is not surprising given that Zack was Calvin’s right hand man and was in charge of all the design teams that produced Calvin’s men’s, women’s, CK, and home collections. He was responsible for creating their iconic advertising campaigns (and attracting celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow). In fact, he played such an enormous role when it came to creating the minimal aesthetic which came to define the house, that upon his passing, Calvin Klein noted, “Whatever one thinks about what we stand for in terms of being nontraditional, modern, clean—that was Zack.”
And speaking of Calvin Klein, with Raf Simons now installed as the new Creative Director, we are all anxiously awaiting to see his new vision for the house, and his upcoming fashion show will undoubtedly be one of the most highly anticipated of the upcoming New York Fashion Week. I asked George to weight in and this is what he said:
“Even though I have not directly worked for Calvin Klein for over 20 years, I still a great connection to this brand. My brother Zack & I were there at the creation of the brand and during those amazing decades of the 70s, 80s & 90s. During the 2000’s, both Calvin and his partner Barry Schwartz were supporters of my book Zack Carr. They are both still personal friends. I keep in contact with both. I was also very close to Tom Murry, ex-President. I count Francisco Costa, Italo Zucchelli & Kevin Carrigan as personal friends. You might say I have been an ‘ambassador for Calvin Klein’.
With both Zack & I, we have a combined 50 year association with CK. CK and the Carr brothers are inextricably linked. There is as much Carr in Calvin Klein as Calvin Klein in the Carr’s. So I follow the brand very closely. And I could not be more excited for PVH, CK and Raf Simons for the new venture. I was raised at CK with the focus on an American luxury designer business with a modern approach. All related business, licenses, etc. flowed from this single designer leadership. Actually, it is the same model I have developed at CARR. I think the time is right for Modern American Fashion.”
Amazing article and fantastic background on the company! Thank you for sharing this inspirational story and collection. – Eric W