On a recent Sunday afternoon at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, there was no need for introductions. Edward Nardoza, editor-in-chief of Women’s Wear Daily magazine, made them anyway.
His first guest, Ross Bleckner, one of America’s most compelling contemporary artists, Mr. Nardoza said, merges the abstract and figurative in “striking, meditative canvases” that can be unsettling, joyful or simply beautiful to view. Gesturing to his left, the moderator continued, “And Calvin Klein, is, well, he’s Calvin Klein”—the designer behind, and father of, the American edge.
In the hot seat for about an hour, the two men—and longtime friends—talked art, fashion and inspiration, dishing on what keeps them going day in and day out. Talent and creativity is inherent, they agreed. Drive, on the other hand, is not.
“You really need to be persistent. At the beginning, you really have to deal with some disappointment,” Mr. Bleckner said. “People want what’s new, what they think is interesting for that moment, but in order to something for 40 or 50 years—like Calvin did and does—that’s a whole different level of achievement that very few people get to do.”
“But not everyone wants that,” Mr. Klein said. “Just like I know you don’t stand in your studio thinking about how much money you’re going to make.”
“How do you know that?” Mr. Bleckner countered.
The men continued to squabble throughout the discussion, arguing philosophy and, at times, semantics.
“Fashion is not art,” Mr. Klein said.
“And I disagree,” Mr. Bleckner said.
“Fashion is fashion,” the designer continued. “It’s a craft. It’s something you learn. Since I was 5 years old, I had a passion for it. I got that from my mother and my grandmother. It’s not the fine arts—which is art, what Ross does. What we do is make clothes. Hopefully creative, hopefully inspiring.”
“You created a look,” Mr. Bleckner insisted. “It’s an aesthetic, a whole platform. I think artists were inspired by that sense of what’s possible.”
The designer attributes his success to a certain degree of obsession—his fragrance of the same name is no coincidence, he said—which transcends his fashion line.
“It took me four years to complete my apartment in New York. And my house out here in Southampton, I worked on it every day,” Mr. Klein said. “I know, instinctively, my body gets a reaction when I love something or I don’t. I get revolted when I see something I think is really bad taste. SO, the only way I know if I wanted the ceilings to be 14 feet or 13 feet was to build a model.”
He shrugged, as Mr. Nardoza and Mr. Bleckner laughed, wide-eyed.
“People thought I was building a house. I wasn’t. It was plywood,” Mr. Klein continued. ”It’s a bit extreme, I know.”