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A Shot of Black, A Shot of White: Flashback to Calvin Klein's Spring 1994 Collection

November 14, 2009

Calvin Klein Spring 1994 Collection

In the web chatter that surrounded Francisco Costa’s recently debuted Spring 2010 collection for Calvin Klein, several references were made to how Costa had revamped Calvin Klein’s famous t-shirt inspired collection from 1994—the same collection that launched Kate Moss as the designer’s muse.

In one of my recent jaunts on YouTube, I happened to find by chance a segment from Elsa Klensch’s Style featuring the same collection. Watching the clip was a flash back into my youth in the early nineties. This was before the Internet explosion, when we all had to actually read the newspaper or watch television to find out was going on. Klensch’s distinctive accent was overly nostalgic for me. Her voice took me immediately back to being a teenager, sitting in a living room in west O‘ahu and watching flashes of an intriguing, glamorous world, as far away from New York as one could possibly be.

Calvin Klein Spring 1994 Collection

Unbelievably, sixteen years have passed since Calvin Klein debuted the collection back in 1993. As I look at the clip now, the passage of the years, the South Asian-infused runway soundtrack, and Klein’s urbanized accent (he did grow up in the Bronx) makes the whole segment seem like something out of an art installation. Some pieces scream the early nineties, particularly the black and white dress and long sleeve t-shirt combos. Other pieces, on the other hand, show how Klein’s relaxed yet sophisticated minimalist vision has moved into the general population. Of course, there are Klein’s models… a young and fresh Kate Moss sharing the runway with the androgynous Jenny Shimizu.

Klein’s commentary is particularly fantastic, saying a lot without saying that much at the same. “The clothes are tonal…,” he says. “…and very face powdery colors… but with an edge, so there’s a surprise of a shot of black or the shot of white or the black with the white. So that there’s always a strength and a softness that I think is very special.” But how much detail can one add to the simplicity of a t-shirt or tank peaking beneath a dress. In the end, it’s the bare juxtaposition of colors and textures that speaks for itself.

As I move into my thirties, seeing this clip makes me realize how much I am a child of the nineties. I didn’t get experience the Summer of Love, the sexual revolution of the seventies, or the eighties’ over-the-top decadence. Instead, the culture of my youth was the sobriety that followed in the wake of AIDS combined with the hope that marked the beginning of the Clinton years. Though the nineties don’t sizzle as other decades did, the nineties had its own particular edge, a clarity and a chic that one could pull off simply with just a flash of white against black. It’s this kind of minimal allure that one would eventually lead me to New York to experience this for the last few years of the decade. Of course, all of this came to a final end with 9/11 and the Bush years, which produced a cultural shockwave that we’re finally coming out of.

As we move as a culture into a new era, and the nineties are now an almost even ten years behind us, it seems appropriate that the nineties start to makes its influence felt. After the explosion of decadence and excess of the last few years, I would be more than happy to have my aesthetic sense sharpened by an edge of black and white simplicity.

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