Jake Gyllenhaal rarely attends fashion shows. He estimates he’d been to only one before he stepped into the world that Raf Simons created for Calvin Klein’s spring/summer 2018 fashion show this past July—a show that proved to be the hottest ticket of New York Fashion Week: Men’s. That’s why, as he made his way in and out of the venue, some folks took note. What is he doing here?
That question was answered last month, when Gyllenhaal’s campaign for Calvin Klein Eternity was revealed. Simons was named creative director of the famed American fashion house in August of 2016 to much fanfare, and has since set about reinvigorating the label. The new fragrance campaign—starring Gyllenhaal alongside model Liya Kebede and four-year-old actress Leila—is part of that movement to explore new territory. Unlike pretty much every other fragrance ad you’ve ever seen, it’s subtle. Quiet. And instead of focusing on sex, it focuses on the idea of family.
With a TV spot directed by Cary Fukanaga, the filmmaker behind HBO’s True Detective Season One, and still shots from photographer Willy Vanderperre, the campaign stands out precisely because it doesn’t seem to be trying to. And as it turns out, Gyllenhaal was instrumental in shaping the creative vision in collaboration with Simons. We sat down with the actor (and now model) to talk about how it all came together, why honesty is vital in acting as well as style, and the particular challenges of having a great beard.
On why he decided to work with Raf Simons and Calvin Klein
They approached me initially and they said, “We respect what you stand for in your work.” And Raf. He came to see me at the show [Sunday in the Park With George] this winter on Broadway. He said, “I really want you to be the face of this campaign. I respect you as an artist, and I’d love to collaborate with you on this.” And I’d never been approached by a big corporation or even like the fashion brand in this way—in a way that was collaborative and creation-first.
And I just thought, “This is interesting.” It’s the way I approach all of my creative endeavors whether I’m making movies or doing anything. It’s the same kind of thing. It’s like, “Oh, this person is really interesting, they have an interesting mind. I’m down.” And it usually comes that quickly. I’ve never done anything like this before, but it’s kind of an interesting medium to get into and to think about. And what better partner than him? He’s been incredible this entire time. Everybody has, honestly. It’s one of those things where you’re in a really lovely exchange with really great artists.
On dressing like the characters he plays
When I’m playing a character—which in my work takes months—sometimes I end up dressing like that character. Like someone will give me my shoes for a character, and I’ll wear those so that when I’m on set or when I’m working or on stage, I know what it feels like. So I find my style is reflective oftentimes of some of the work that I’m doing, characters I’m playing.
And then when I’m not, it veers into sort of the uniform of searching. When I was in my 20s starting out, I was trying to figure out what I believed in, what I cared about, even. You know, searching. I was very self-conscious at that time. I saw somebody doing this, so I tried to emulate it. Now, I don’t think about it as much. I think that’s an inevitable evolution from growing up. Though, my father always told me, “It’s very important to walk into a space and be respectful of the space you walk into.” How you present yourself—when you go to an event that is honoring somebody you respect or your community—I think it is a wonderful thing to wear a suit, wherever you can find it or however you can do it.
The people that I respect and admire most in the world are actually gentlemen. Not because someone dresses up in a suit, but because someone is kind, and not a pushover. And I think however you can reflect that in how you dress and how you behave, then that’s it.
On his memories of Eternity
I have a very intimate relationship with it because I know it from my high school years. It reminds me of experiences in my adolescence that I really love and appreciate about connection, I guess you could say… to use a euphemism. [Laughs] And now, I have a very particular way of putting it on that I can demonstrate. I just spray it in the air and jump through it. Everything is about process. I believe in process over results. So, to me, the process of putting it on is equally as fun as the result of smelling good.
On growing his (very impressive) beard
I have to say, it’s not necessarily by choice. I played Georges Seurat [in Sunday in the Park With George], and he had a beard. So I had that. And now I’m doing a movie, so have this which is different than the one I had. After I finish this film, I think it’ll go for a while. After a while, you know how it is—it’s a pain. What happens is, if I don’t cut it, it just appears. It’s a strange phenomenon that happens.
On how the campaign came together
I said, “Oh, I know Cary Fukunaga. We did this video together; he’s a good friend of mine. What if Cary does the video?” And Raf was like, “I love that idea. I love Cary’s work.” They suggested Liya, and I thought that was a beautiful idea. And I think family is everything. I love that the campaign is not only about a love story. And not what you see in other campaigns of, like, a single man or woman. It just felt unique in this space. And I’m always trying to find things that spark me and inspire me, and that inspired me. To me, family is family.
It’s the right type of collaboration. It’s a shared vision. And I think Raf is incredible. He’s strong, so unique, and vulnerable. I feel that, in his personality, in his own work. And it’s exactly the type of person I’d like to work with.
On his second-ever fashion show
All these people were dressed in these amazing ways. So bold and so thoughtful. It was really inspiring. And I don’t know if I would ever dress in similar ways, but their communication with what they wore was so inspiring to me.
It’s not even about what the person is wearing. It’s about the boldness of their expression. You can feel when it’s true and you can feel when someone’s trying. And I think you can say that about anybody’s work, about anybody’s behavior. And what I try to get out of my work is trying to be honest. And God knows I’m not always fully, but I try to get close to it. That’s what I admire about some of the people I saw there that night. I thought, “That’s why I want to work with Raf.” He’s vulnerable, but bold in what he’s trying to say. And I admire that anywhere.