The Fashion Folk S01 ep16 : William Calvert, Calvert Fashion, [New York]
Interview with William Calvert
When I went to Balmain I helped the designer prepare the haute couture and once you have seen that you really aren't interested in t-shirts any more. People think "Oh, how can a dress or a jacket cost $100,000.00?" Well when you take fabric that has been on some special loom by the most technical advanced or the most knowledgeable person and it is $1,000.00 a yard, and then you employ the 5 best technicians to create that garment at about $50.00 - $100.00 hour and they work 100 hours a piece, suddenly that garment is getting very expensive. But the thing about haute couture is that it is a laboratory, like a Formula 1 racing unit, where all the new ideas and techniques are tested out and proven and figured out so it is much simpler and less expensive once these ideas are put into ready to wear.
William Calvert in reality is a luxury ready to wear line. The collection is based on
a dress rather than based on a Jacket, so often sometimes it gets lumped into
Couture rather than sportswear.
Early on and probably as far back as when I was 7 years old, I can remember
being very aware of appearances and how people played with those to give off a
certain impression. And I was always very comfortable in sort of a vocabulary that
if your shirt was made up of cotton and has buttons on the collar it means 'x' and
if it doesn't it means 'y' and you know not that it means anything...
KM: So for you it was more symbolism in other words
Yeh, absolutely. That is what sort of got me started and what this says about me
kind of thing, when a person wears it and then, the whole interplay of line and
construction and technique.
I was at this very conservative, kind of Regan youth prep school, and they were
like "fashion" what! Certainly my father who was an engineer might have said,
Architecture makes a little bit more sense. I don't know a damn thing about
fashion, but if that is what you want to do…
KM: but it is architecture too.
Yes, it is exactly the same thing. But sometimes I find it a little bit harder because
a building doesn't have to move. Once you get all those crazy lines in place they
I investigated a bunch of schools and the one we ended up settling on was The
Philladelphia College of Textiles and Science and because the school I was at in
Philladelphia had everthing it was much more industrial in its focus and I really
wanted to focus on La Di Da so I went to Italy to really perfect sketching, really
couture pattern making skills, draping and things like that.
KM: What was the difference in the way they looked at things and the way the
Americans look at things?
Well the thing that makes you a little crazy about Americans is that before the
sketch is even done they are talking about whether it will sell or not and can it be
mass produced, you know and all this.... and I can appreciate that but at the
same time the bottom line doesn't become exciting unless you are doing
something new and fresh, and in Italy it was all about doing it right. You know, if it
is done right, and it is good and it is beautiful it will sell.
KM: So what happened then?
You know I went to Paris and really liked it, wangled my way into Balenciaga and I
thought I had died and gone to heaven.
KM: Why? Explain it to me.
Because here I was, in this incredible French house, with this incredible history
and you know I am this kid from Baltimore and the first fashion show Christie
Turlington opened the show and I got to dress her and there were all these things,
that were huge milestones as far as my career in fashion.
KM: What did you learn at Balenciaga?
What I learned in Paris was to take all that I had learned in Italy, precise pattern
making and illustration and all that, and just looser with it and just sketched and
handed it out to the work room and a good workroom caught the spirit of your
sketch and what you meant by your sketch and not just what you had on the
To me a great team is, as that sketch travels down the line from being a blank
piece of paper to being a garment, everyone has to add their little bit and
someone who can say oh I see that it is a three button jacket and just whip up
some dumb pattern - you don't want that person. You want the person who say
oh it has got a little hmm here and a little hmm there....
A great pattern maker looks at your sketch and gives you not what you drew but
what you meant by your drawing. They find a way with the shape of the garment
they are doing, let us say it is a jacket they fill it with all the attitude and all the
pizzazz that you are trying to get with your sketch.
When I went to Balmain I was working in the licensing studio but also helped the
designer prepare the haute couture and once you have seen that you really aren't
interested in t-shirts any more. People think Oh how can a dress or a jacket cost
$100,000.00 well when you take fabric that has been woven on some special
loom by the most technically advanced or the most knowledgeable person and it
is $1,000.00 a yard, and then you employ the five best technicians to create that
garment at about $50.00 per hour, $100.00 hour and they work a 100 hours a
piece, suddenly that garment is getting very expensive. But the thing about haute
couture is that it is a laboratory, it’s a formula 1 racing unit, it’s where all the new
ideas and techniques are tested out and proven and figured out so it is much
simpler and less expensive once these ideas are put into ready to wear.
There was this one suit, it is my favourite thing to talk about as far as haute
couture wear - the designers inspiration for the collection was Gaudi the architect.
He took these three really fine Swiss Cotton piques and had the sample room cut
them us in a lot of jaggered little bits and they pinned them all over the dress form
to create this very form fitted silhouette, but it had a lapel and square shoulders,
very sucked in at the waist but there were no traditional seams, It was created by
the interaction of all these little pieces, and then hand stitched them back
altogether after they were all pinned into place and then beaded like 3 or 4 rows of
seed pearls around each piece so it looked like raised mortar and there were no
seams, there were all the seams holding the pieces together but no traditional
seams. When I saw that I fell off my face, I thought Oh my God...
KM: For you, you would have seen God
Oh Right, there you go.... you know the patience and the know how and the focus
and the ....
KM: William, why do people need that?
For the same reason you need a Cathedral, it is the same reason you need a
skyscraper, it is pushing the.... it is doing it for the sake of doing it. It is the same
reason there is Iambic pentameter in poetry it is creating these parameters and
then just blowing through them and I just thing that is wonderful.
When I started they were not sure that the jacket would work but the designer
sketched it and said this is what I want and then you have got 700 years of
experience of golden hands trying to put it together and in no way do I mean this
to be a slap but it is almost like being close to God because there is so much
intensity.... when people are that good at what they do and you are around that
passion it is as close as you can get to that on earth without having divine
After Balmain I went to Rochas, which was across the street, and Peter O’Brien
was the designer when I was there. They make these incredibly intricate,
incredibly expensive ready to wear clothes, it is this little jewel box that no one
takes notice of it and then I got offered a job in America and I came back and I
worked for Dianne Von Furstenburg for a year and a half.
I wrote a business plan and shopped it around and started and...
KM: So this is what you are doing now, When did you start this business.
KM: What is your signature?
I guess the big thing that I do is decoration and construction are the same - they
KM: Are you more sculpting your work rather than draping your work?
I say it is more sculpt, because we spend a lot of time, even if we want the line to
go like this, we try here, we try there, we try there, just to get it to be in that
perfect flattering spot because I want it to be edgy and new and fresh and all that
but at the same time it has to make a woman look beautiful. If it is swashing one
boob and making the other poke out, making one shoulder lower than the other -
what is the point!
The funniest thing that sticks in my mind, is that when I did my first season, I
called a bunch of stores and some of them called me back and some of them
didn't but one had a sort of open vendor day where you come as a new person,
you get an appointment with the buyer and show them. I packed up my dresses
and samples and went down to see them and they give you a little room, you set
yourself up and you are all ready (you haven't slept the night before cause you
are so nervous) you have your little pictures, your swatches and your dresses and
you are ready to go and this person walks in, looks at my clothes and goes this
really isn't for us and walked out. And I thought wow that was painful and the
following week I had a piece in vogue and that same person called me and said
"Oh I just read your piece in Vogue I'd love to come see the line" and I though
doesn't... O.K. whatever. So she came up and looked at the line on the
Mannequins and said oh these are beautiful, really fresh, really new, how could
you have possibly slipped through the cracks. I have been doing business with
them ever since.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: William Calvert, Calvert Fashion, New York