Italo’s Influence

Italo Zucchelli, portrait by Danny Clinch / Detail shots by Betty Sze for

As the Men’s Creative Director of Calvin Klein Collection, Italo Zucchelli serves not just as a designer, but as an international arbiter of taste. His refined menswear looks for the iconic brand serve as the litmus test for what’s next in American men’s fashion. Case in point, Zucchelli’s streamlined Spring collection reinterpreted the iconography of Calvin, with a modernized take on luxe Americana, infused with the classic Klein ethos, all while single-handedly resurrecting the jean jacket. MDC caught up with the man himself to talk fashion, the changing nature of the menswear market and just what he looks for in those Calvin exclusives.

MDC: We know you’re very involved in the casting process – what do you look for in a model?

ITALO: I look for guys that are athletic, that have a presence – I always describe it like this, they look American, even if they’re not. They have to project confidence, be masculine, have a good body. In mens it is very hard to have a casting that is fresh and new. I’m just quoting different casting agents, but they’ve actually acknowledged that it is more difficult to cast a show with men than women. From their perspective – and this is them talking, not me – with women’s shows you have a lot of supermodels, you just have to pick the right ones, not to say that it is easy, but you have to have that with a brand, a certain level.

Finding new faces with men’s is hard, it is so easy to go into a territory that feels cheesy or wrong, or redundant. I work a lot to try and find new faces – we send a casting director to different places; universities, gymnasiums, rock festivals and basically she stops boys in the street. A couple of times I’ve done it – I’m tempted to do it all the time in New York City, but most of the time I don’t have a card with me.

MDC: How would you describe this spring collection?

ITALO: This is one of the most American collections that I’ve done, the evolution of the American hero. I always like to reference the iconic language of Calvin Klein. Of course jeans are one of the main elements of the brand, I started with jeans and full on outfits with jeans – deliberately I didn’t want to see color in this collection. I didn’t send any color out on the runway. There is also this flower print, which I used throughout – that and the jeans were the two main elements. I wanted it to look very summery and elegant, it came to life with the help of some great looking guys. This cast in particular I was really happy with. We usually have 12 exclusive guys, who don’t do any other shows in Milan, it is part of the heritage of Calvin Klein Collection and something I consider important to continue – it was very successful. And I got a great review from!

MDC: Who for you represents the ideal Calvin Klein Collection man?

ITALO: I usually don’t say names, of course there are men – actors, sports people who we dress all the time, but for me the Calvin man is just confident, athletic, modern, he appreciates design and likes to have fun with clothes. Right now we’re in a great moment for menswear. Men are very informed and they’re wearing more color, wearing more pattern, they’re willing to spend money on clothes. Men are concerned with their image, they all go to the gym, they follow the trends.

Also this is Calvin Klein, which for me is a brand that is about clothes that speak to the people, clothes they want to wear. I try to push fashion, but I also want to make it real. It is a very challenging thing – a bit like doing a great pop song, which is a difficult thing; a pop song everybody loves, but also has a quality to it, but that is what drives me.

MDC: Menswear is changing rapidly and in the past few years we’ve seen men embracing all kind of new things – is there one element of design that you think men have been reluctant to incorporate into their wardrobes?

ITALO: I cannot completely say that men haven’t embraced prints because they are embracing them. I cannot say color because they are wearing color, but what is still a little challenging are experimental fits & shapes. Shapes that exaggerate sizes and volume; these are still sometimes more of a runway statement than a real life look. It depends though, last fall we did oversized overcoats and they did very well, so it depends on what it is. It might be easier for men to buy an oversized overcoat than a bubble pant – there can be a little bit of resistance to extreme shapes.

MDC: What’s next for Calvin Klein Collection?

ITALO: We are expanding our market, it is what I’m really working on right now. I’ve always enjoyed creating products, but it is also important to push fashion forward, to take risks and experiment. It is a very exciting time for menswear – I look forward to seeing what’s next!

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