Picture This: A 31-year-old writer with one book under his wing gets a letter from the former First Lady of the United States, admiring his biography of Vladimir Horowitz and inviting him to meet with her to discuss his next book project. After a few phone conversations, together, they decide to invite the king of American fashion to lunch to discuss the possibility of working with him on his autobiography.
Fact or fiction? I’m happy to report that I made the lunch reservation! And I’m thinking of it just today for reasons I’ll soon explain.
Back in the summer of 1984, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, indisputably the most famous and glamorous woman in the world (and also a book editor at Doubleday), wanted to meet the legendary Calvin Klein, the undisputed master of American couture and the hottest designer of his time. He was also the genius behind a billion dollar empire that included jeans, underwear and perfume, all of it advertised in daringly-trailblazing billboard and TV ad campaigns that to this day are classics, the most emulated, artistic, sensuous, and erotic ever created.
On a hot early summer day that year, more than a few forks dropped when my new friends “Jackie” and “Calvin” walked into a Park Avenue bistro named Rafael. Jackie, with no make-up or jewelry, looked radiant, dressed down in a simple blue summer shift. And Calvin, dashingly handsome in a blazer and a green-striped rep tie, was as warm and down to earth as I ever could have imagined him to be. In fact, despite their mind-boggling fame, I was taken aback by their warmth and high spirits and genuine interest in me. “Glenn, can I share?”Jackie asked girlishly, dipping her spoon into my chocolate mousse at dessert. Here was the woman who had seduced heads of state with her beguiling smile, a fashion icon who had transformed the White House. She’d conquered France on her first state visit there. And, of course, she’d forever won over the hearts of Americans with her bravery and dignity after the President’s assassination.
But on this day, the conversation was light and sparkling–skipping from fashion to real estate, to the news of the day and Hollywood, but always circling back to the idea of a possible Calvin Klein autobiography. In the end, however, Calvin, at age 41, was just too young to do it–as his life story was still being written. So although Jackie was disappointed that Calvin decided to forego such a book–something wonderful came out of it anyway.
He decided to accept my invitation to do a Playboy Interview, one that was conduced over a six-week period, with hours of conversation taped, the final result published the following year, the most extended interview Calvin has ever given, before or since. It was recently re-printed in a special Playboy hardcover book titled Movers and Shakers, a collection of the magazine’s favorite thirteen profiles, which also includes my interviews with Leona Helmsley and Donald Trump.
The Playboy Interview captured Calvin at his candid best: “What’s bad about sex?” he laughed when I challenged him about his racy TV commercials. “I’m more offended when someone’s killed on television than when there’s something that’s sensuous or sexual or amusing, or when there’s a double-entendre. So what?” To read the entire interview, just pick up the the Playboy book.
I can tell you that that interview cemented my friendship with Calvin for a lifetime and it was followed by our Today Show interview a few years later–and by so many acts of generosity by Calvin over the years. For example, he introduced me to both Nancy Reagan and to Diana Ross, putting a good word in and helping me secure those exclusives. He kindly introduced me to the great fashion editor, John Fairchild, and I wound up working at that company for a number of years. And not least meaningful to me, on one occasion, Calvin came on the phone to talk my grandmother, Essie, who loved Calvin’s clothes. This small act of kindness was just the kind of thing he did all the time, and I’ll never forget it.
Most recently, I sent Calvin a copy of my upcoming book, Katie Up and Down the Hall, and I was so touched by the testimonial quote that he sent back to me. It says as much about him and his values as it does about the theme of the book.
“Glenn’s book is engaging, open-hearted, and very warm. His story proves that the true and small pleasures in life–friendship, loyalty, and trust–are the ones that matter most.”
Indeed they do. And that’s why the photograph to the right, of Calvin and me, is my all-time favorite.