Kelly Klein's life is made up of several chapters, some more public than others. She began her career as a design assistant at Ralph Lauren and, later, took on the same role at Calvin Klein before marrying the designer in 1986. They separated 10 years later and officially divorced in 2006. In the early 80s, she shifted her focus to photography, going on to shoot advertisements and editorials for magazines including Harper's Bazaar, Interview and international editions of Vogue, and to publish six books featuring images culled from obscure and well-known photographers. Now, for the first time, she's publishing a book of her own photographs.
The book, "Photographs by Kelly Klein," features both personal images — including snapshots with famous friends like John F. Kennedy Jr. and Fran Lebowitz — and a selection of her professional work, including early editorials starring Gisele Bündchen and Kate Moss.
"Photographs for me are my memories and this book is a photographic journey of my life over 35 years," Klein said ahead of a book signing at Bookmarc in New York on Thursday evening. She worked with long-time collaborator and creative director Sam Shahid on the book's layout, and was surprised by the visual connections she found between different types of images. "I'm very inspired by the Madonnas and Christos and I'm always photographing their faces, and then I realized the way I photographed Christy Turlington's face and Guinevere [Van Seenus]'s face, they're like saints to me," she said. "They're very similar and sort of iconic and so I edited the book truly by going through my archives for three years."
I spoke with Klein about specific images and models in the book, from fresh-faced supermodels backstage at a 1995 Calvin Klein runway show to a shoot in Santorini with Iman in 1982.
Naomi Campbell's 1997 Halloween Party
"That was a huge Halloween night that Naomi Campbell hosted at the Supper Club. I was invited and everybody was full-on costume, you couldn't recognize hardly anyone. There were supermodels, all the designers, the best hair and makeup people were invited. And no one does Halloween better than hair and makeup people, and also models. I've been to many Halloween parties but that night in particular was one I'll never forget. I carry my camera everywhere, I still do and I was able to snap away that night and so that's part of my personal work."
Iman in Santorini in 1982
"That was my first big photo shoot that I went on for Calvin Klein when I first started working at the company and Bruce [Weber] was hired to shoot the ad campaigns for the men's underwear. It would be the first underwear campaign that ever came out, so it's the iconic one with the guy standing in front of the white pillar with the incredible hunky body. And I was there as an assistant to the assistant to the assistant and, for a month, we lived there. We took over a hotel and the models would fly in and out and Bruce had his team and I helped and watched. It was just one of the best experiences I ever had really. I found those old pictures, they were old snapshots I had put away in a photo album. You never forget those opportunities or times in your life when you're around such inspiring people and Iman is the most beautiful woman."
Backstage at a 1995 Calvin Klein Show
"Those were taken before the show started. Those girls were not even supermodels yet — babies, all of them. I'm sure they were very nervous. They were beautiful and very calm and just getting their hair and makeup done by Dick Page, who's one of my favorites. I think he's genius with makeup. And I always carried a camera. Those were taken so many years ago, I thought I'd never see them again and I found them when I was searching in my archives. I didn't even remember them."
Early Kate Moss Shoot in 1995
"That was one of [Moss's] first jobs. I think it was for Spanish Vogue and it was sort of a Mod story. We shot over here on one of the vacant piers and it was a very grungy, rough pier. I've photographed her quite a lot actually, in my life, and she from day one was a style icon. These girls, these supermodels, are super for many reasons. It's not just their beauty. They know how to dress, they understand clothing, they understand themselves, they have really great personalities and they're professional."
Gisele in Dominica in 1998
"No matter how young, [today's supermodels] just knew what to do, and that's what I found so fascinating about photographing Gisele. This was for Marie Claire and we were in Dominica. She showed up a day late because of a problem with the plane and so we had one day to shoot. And back then when you had film, shooting in one day is not easy because shooting digital is very fast right you can do it all in one day but shooting film... I did it in one day and that was just a moment when she was standing there. It never ran [in the magazine] and it was just a moment and she's gorgeous."