Many are familiar with Francisco Costa’s garments at Calvin Klein Collection. Anyone lucky enough to possess them in her wardrobe is aware of the creative director’s strengths: edgy minimalism, deconstructed fabrication, and a disarming elegance that betrays the garments’ inherent brutalism. Fewer are acquainted with Camilla Nickerson, the discerning Vogue contributing editor who styles each show and helps guide each collection from its creative inception to completion, her relentless sense of modernity a constant fountain of inspiration for the designer. To see Costa and Nickerson at work is to bear witness to two friends having a laugh. On set with Mario Sorrenti, there is a calm sense of ease, a no-nonsense approach to getting the shot, and an unencumbered physicality between the two. It’s clear that no creative boundaries seem to exist between them, as they explain casually over a smoke or two in SoHo one brisk Friday morning. PAtrik sandberg    

The two of you work together every season. I’m curious to know when you first met and what your impressions of each other were. 

FRANCISCO COSTA Camilla came to the showroom to look at a collection and I took her through. Of course, I was totally taken by her and she was totally taken by the collection. It was the [F/W ’07] collection that was very structured, all navy, all black. She was talking about the layers of these colors, what have you. She was very appreciative of all the work. I almost wanted to ask, “Okay, wanna work together?” But I didn’t! [laughs] I was intimidated. Do you remember that?


Camilla, what was your impression of Francisco? 

CN Immediately that he was incredibly warm, very sensitive, and open. He’s really remarkable and he allows for you to say anything. So instead of ever feeling judged, you can just throw anything out there and you never feel intimidated in any way. It makes for the most incredible sharing, and exciting collaboration. It’s really, really special. 

What is the craziest experience you two have had?

FC Many! What isn’t crazy?

CN It’s all crazy! But it’s an incredibly close relationship and there’s a lot of trust. We see one another at our roughest and most ecstatic and the most amazing thing about Francisco is that he’s always the gentleman. 

FC I think it has to do with the person you work with. It goes beyond relationships, because obviously there’s trust, but it’s her incredible eye and incredible intellect. How could you not rely, how could you not believe, how could you not trust when there is so much passion, so much love, and also so much intelligence? It’s beyond her being just so beautiful, you know, and when she walks in, you know it’s right. I don’t know if it’s the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. It’s just one very amazing flow and she is my extension. I trust her judgment 100 percent. 

CN I read something yesterday, it was like, this book I’d been given about health and things. It said, “Be careful. Don’t eat gluten. Make sure you spend 10 minutes every day doing something you love.” And I was like, but I do something I love all day every day! And then it said, “Make sure that you spend time with the people you love.” And I’m like…I spend all day with people I love! 

You must be really healthy!

CN [holds up her cigarette] Incredibly healthy! [laughs] But it’s true. We’re so lucky. To understand the design process…As an editor, you judge too quickly. Like, Oh well, I don’t like that jacket or, Would I wear those jeans? So, to see the workings of a studio and to see the studio that Francisco has built is extraordinary. He has an amazing team but it has grown and grown and grown and to have that here in New York is exceptional. It means that the clothes can be touched and brought to life in a way that if they were ever to be made in another country and then arrive, you have to just deal with what you get. But instead, with his passion, Francisco has built this extraordinary design room, which you don’t find anywhere in the world. It’s great, it really pushes the boundaries. 

How much time do you spend there? Are you involved with the designing of the collection from its conception? 

CN Yeah, we see each other throughout the season and it grows and changes and grows. 

FC That’s the greatest thing. We have the capacity to be able to make changes and to keep improving on the project. It’s very organic. I think we feed off of each other. You know, it’s really a conversation, it’s totally collaborative, and there’s a sense of vulnerability too, which is great. It makes you just express and not be judged. I give credit to her forwardness. I can’t know how a woman feels in the clothes, and just having her there is fundamental. She can understand what a woman would like. It’s very important to connect. 

How does Camilla embody the Calvin woman, apart from her integral part in shaping the collection?

FC Her sense of modernity. I hate to say timelessness because I think if something’s timeless, it’s not so good at times. She’s so modern and so current and so alive, being a mother, being a friend, having a full life. That’s the customer I want to have, somebody who has all her qualities. 

CN I’m told the customers smoke. [laughs]

Once the collections are off the runway, how do the clothes fit into your life? Do you have a favorite piece from over the years that you still wear?

CN I continue to wear all the pieces and they totally fit in and they morph, and they return. They’re treasures in my cupboard. They come back, but they’re always there. It’s very easy and I feel very lucky that I can walk out wearing them! That’s a huge bonus. 

FC I wish everybody had what I think we have because it’s beyond special. She’s very observant but she’s not an observer. You know? There’s a tremendous amount of respect for the months of creation…the process. She goes in and pins the clothes. She’s really a part of what I do. 

CN But also, with Calvin, a piece might look simple in the end, but to get that piece to say what you want for that season is incredibly hard. It comes from the way in which the clothes are put together, how they’re constructed, or how they’re deconstructed or painted, or frayed. I think if I said to Francisco, “I think we should shoot every piece with bullets,” he’d do it. [laughs] I feel privileged to get that chance to define that moment every season. What is it to be today? Why is this coat oiled, soft, fraying? Do I wear it like a sweater? Why do I want that comfort? Why do I want that protection? Francisco is so brilliant at evoking that, it’s amazing. 

FC It’s very fun and I’m very lucky to have found this space for communicating visions and executing them. I get to do it in the best way and in a great setup. 

Supposing that you ever stop working, do you get to spend time together outside of the studio?

CN We’d like to! 

FC Should we go to lunch?

CN No, we’re going to the studio.    

Hair (Camilla Nickerson) Shingo Shibata (The Wall Group) Photo assistants Lars Beaulieu, Johnny Vicari, Felix Kim Printing Arc Lab Ltd.