Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Calvin Klein's plywood house


     In the newspaper biz there is an expression, "burying the lede," which means to put the most important part of the story, which typically should be close to the beginning, deep in the body of the article. If I come home from work, say hello to the wife, putter around a bit, then suddenly remember some bit of exciting news, I might say, "Whoops honey—I buried the lede."
     Sometimes burying the lede is done intentionally, to provide a bit of flair at the end—"a kicker," to use another journalistic term.  And sometimes, I believe, the writer just doesn't seem to realize how incredible a certain fact is, and it ends up stranded in the middle of the story.
     This was the case in the New York Times article "The House That Calvin Built," splashed across the top two-thirds of the front page of the SundayStyles section this past Sunday, with a huge photo of the $75 million house that fashion designer Calvin Klein is buliding in Southhampton, New York. It is your general Rich-Man-Builds-House story, chronicling the five years the project has taken, the reaction of neighbors.
    A neighbor I spoke with who started the lengthy story bailed out before getting to the amazing part. I stuck with it for the same reason anybody reads these stories, to feel a shimmer of the warmth of the super wealthy. And there were delights that kept you reading. The Klein spokesman's fussy refusal to comment on the matter: "At this time, Calvin really doesn't want to participate in any editorial on the house." At first I thought the spokesman didn't grasp the difference between an editorial on the editorial pages and a puff piece in the style section. But, upon consideration, I realized his reply just reflected fashionspeak for the words that go around photos. It's all "editorial" to them, and he might have a point there.
     The wonder didn't occur—and I guess I'm burying the lede myself here, though I consider it providing context—until the 30th paragraph, when author Jacob Bernstein, following a description of the former mansion on the site being chopped up and carted away, serves up this stunner:
     After that, a life-size mock-up of the two story house was built of plywood on the property. That project was so substantial that it required a building permit from the Village of Southampton and wound up costing approximately $350,000, according to two sources close to Mr. Klein. So that Mr. Klein could get an even better idea of what it was to be like, the furniture he had in mind was created of foamcore.
    Have you ever heard of such a practice in your life? Have you ever imagined it? Of course not. I truly believe, if you locked F. Scott Fitzgerald, Barbara Cartland and P.G. Wodehouse in a room and charged them with dreaming up the most indulgent follies of the rich they could imagine,  they would never come up with that image—the plywood sample house — not in a hundred years. The faux tester house, with its foam furniture, built so Calvin Klein can wander through and make sure that everything is Just So before the real house gets built.
      That's a big drawback of being rich, I believe—I'm guessing here, but I feel fairly confident. Wealth gives you the illusion that you can have everything Just So, everything to your liking, all the time, and allows you to go to ridiculous lengths to try to get it. Not to take anything away from Calvin Klein. As a young man, I owned one of his bomber jackets and was immensely proud to have it. And now, his boxers and undershirts—just the best. Wouldn't wear another brand; nothing else will do. So he earned his money, and if he feels compelled to spend it in such a patently crazy, controlling and almost sad fashion, well, there you go. If I read of the plywood dry run house in a Christopher Buckley novel I'd smile, shake my head and think that Buckley had gone a bit over-the-top, and strayed into overbroad parody. That it is instead a factual occurrence is a matter of wonder, and deserves the widest possible dissemination.

To read the entire New York Times piece on Calvin Klein's house, click here.




   

12 comments:

  1. Neil, if you were a viewer of This Old House, you'd know there is software that allows you to "walk through the finished house".
    Now that's just simple stuff for architects doing relatively small homes. But I'm sure there is software running that would allow a "walkthrough" of his monstrosity!

    What a truly appalling waste of money & trees by someone who knows the value of neither!

    ReplyDelete
  2. My first thought after reading this was how $350,000 could provide one (or even two) nice homes for the poor. My final thought was how grateful I am not to have that kind of wealth, where everything you think you need and want is available for a price.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Around here, Habitat for Humanity would put up six houses for $350k.

      Delete
  3. "Wouldn't never"!!!!

    "They wouldn't never come up with that image..."!

    Fix it, Neil! Aside from the double negative it's a gem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using double negatives. They were used in English until a bunch of little old gray haired English teachers got their panties all knotted up, over them for reasons that no one today understands. Most other languages use them as an emphasis & so should we English speakers!

      Delete
    2. It was just a typo, Becca. I have no problem with double negatives as intensifiers: not no way, no how. But that wasn't my meaning. No copyeditors at all on this baby -- just you guys. So feel free to correct, just don't try to draw significance from random mistakes. ("I would think a supposed wordsmith such as yourself would not offer up the strange neologism 'hte' when the word "the" is obviously called for. I can only interpret that as your lame attempt to elevate yourself to the Olympic heights of such successful word-coiners as John Milton and Lewis Carroll...."

      Delete
  4. Dovetailing with your Labor Day comments....."Not to take anything away from Calvin Klein. As a young man, I owned one of his bomber jackets and was immensely proud to have it. And now, his boxers and undershirts—just the best. Wouldn't wear another brand; nothing else will do. So he earned his money".......the real calmuny is that Mr. Klein didn't come into his fortune at the expense and misery of thousands of Asian laborers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. steven daube,

      Calvin Klein does make clothes in asian sweatshops.

      Delete
    2. My comment was, sadly, a double negative.

      Delete
  5. There are also 3-D printers that can create an accurate color model of the house and any furniture desired. It's not cheap but still a lot less that $350,000.

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Lee. But can you walk through their renderings?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Neil,

      There's been out there for a long time the Virtual Reality software which allows people to "walk through" homes. This plywood house is just another example of the hubris of people such as Klein. Unless this nation goes completely into the toilet, our descendants will wonder why we put up with and rewarded such nonsense.

      Delete

Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.