New Yorker Ryan Raftery has made a name for himself by taking the bio-musical to thrilling new places. With three titans of media — Anna Wintour, Andy Cohen and Martha Stewart — already in the bag, his latest stage production, The Obsession of Calvin Klein, sees Raftery explore the trials and tribulations of another industry’s titan.
Far from straightforward biographical deep-dives that might knock you out cold from boredom, Raftery’s stage shows wrap whimsical (and, yes, occasionally fabricated) anecdotes and quick-witted song parodies around the true-life tales of larger-than-life personalities. Not quite skewering takedowns, Raftery’s stage shows are respectful-but-irreverent glimpses into these celebrities’ lives that happen to say just as much about us, the shows’ celebrity-obsessed clientele, as their subjects.
Raftery does such a great job with these bio-musical parodies that performances typically draw quite the noteworthy crowd to his New York City and Los Angeles shows. (Anna Wintour’s and Martha Stewart’s daughters famously stopped by the shows about their own mothers, and Oprah’s bestie Gayle King never misses a new Raftery production.)
In The Obsession of Calvin Klein, Ryan Raftery as Calvin Klein takes us down the 76-year-old designer’s “memory lane,” complete with a Ralph Lauren rivalry and parodies of songs originally sung by Amy Winehouse and Fleetwood Mac.
Now, in advance of The Obsession of Calvin Klein‘s final NYC show at Joe’s Pub and an L.A. jaunt for two West Coast gigs, Hornet asked Ryan Raftery to share his wealth of knowledge about fashion industry heavyweight Calvin Klein.
Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Calvin Klein:
1. Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren are both from the same neighborhood in the Bronx and they knew each other when they were growing up. The odds of two boys walking around the same streets at the same time who then grew up to become famous fashion designers are astronomical.
2. Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren both created the world’s first lifestyle brands, selling their customers not just clothing but a way of life.
3. Calvin Klein was the first designer to ever advertise on billboards.
4. Calvin Klein was the first designer to advertise on television, too (those famous Brooke Shields commercials, directed by Richard Avedon).
5. Calvin Klein was the first designer to do denim. (“Don’t give me any of that Gloria Vanderbilt shit!” is a line from my show’s script.)
6. Calvin’s daughter Marci was kidnapped off a New York City bus on her way to school in 1977. It was a plot badly orchestrated by her part-time babysitter’s brother. After being in captivity for over 10 hours, Calvin paid the $100,000 ransom and collected the 11-year-old girl with the FBI following very closely. The kidnappers were apprehended.
7. In my show, which is modeled after the modern classic film Black Swan, Calvin is overcome with a crushing paranoia that Ralph Lauren is out to sabotage his success. In order to divert attention from him, Calvin secretly bankrolls his cleaning lady to create a fashion house of her own, and he turns her into a huge star. That cleaning lady’s name (in my show!) is Donna Karan. In real life, Calvin and Donna are very close friends who travel the world together on their respective private planes.
8. After being fired from one of his very first jobs in fashion, Calvin Klein returned years later to occupy office space at 205 West 39th Street. He took the office of the man who fired him and made it his own. That address is still the global headquarters of Calvin Klein, Inc.
9. One of the world’s most famous minimalists and perfectionists, Calvin spent $75 million creating a black, geometric summer house in Southampton. Going through two demolitions and three architects, he eventually had the entire home built to scale in plywood, complete with foamcore furniture, so that he could walk though it and get a hint of what it would look like upon completion.
10. Calvin’s name has been used in some of the most famous movies in history, and that has translated into hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. In Back to the Future, Michael J. Fox’s character travels from the 1980s back to the 1950s wearing his famous logo briefs, and everyone calls him Calvin Klein for the duration of the film. The white Calvin Klein dress Cher (Alicia Silverstone) wears in Clueless was so popular that it was recreated by the house over a decade later.
Ryan Raftery’s The Obsession of Calvin Klein plays a final show at Joe’s Pub in NYC on Jan. 31 and makes its way to L.A.’s Rockwell on Feb. 17 & 18. Click the links for ticket info.
Photos of Ryan Raftery by Brendan Burke