Calvin Richard Klein was born November 19, 1942, in the New York Bronx. Interested in fashion since childhood, a young Klein taught himself how to sketch and sew, and took his innate design skills with him to the classrooms of the New York High School of Art and Design.
Klein then went on the study at the Fashion Institute of Technology (he won places for both his high school and university studies), before heading to become a fashion entrepreneur. In 1968, Klein and childhood friend Barry Schwartz launched an apparel line of men and women’s coats. With Klein’s talent for design and Schwartz’s business savvy, Calvin Klein Limited was on its way to molding the fashion industry.
After Klein and Schwartz met with a buyer form Bonwit Teller, which led to a considerable order, the fashion world was beginning to recognize the talent behind the simple yet sophisticated coat line.
With a name that was making its way in fashion circles, Klein branched out and started his own women’s sportswear line, thanks to the encouragement and demand of fashion store executives. By the 1970s, Klein’s sportswear line had expanded to include women’s apparel, and a whole ready-to-wear line.
From classic, sharp designs available mostly in neutral tones, Klein revolutionized the fashion industry with a basic, minimalist style, much the same way that Ralph Lauren has become a staple in the fashion world. But it was in the late 1970s/1980s that Klein introduced a whole new concept: designer jeans at an affordable price. Teenage model Brooke Shields, clad in her tight Calvin Klein Jeans, made it known to the world that “nothing stood in the way of her and her Calvins.” And women worldwide proved that they agreed with young Brooke.
And Klein’s revolutionary skills didn’t stop there. In 1982, Klein introduced Calvin Klein Underwear, which turned the perception of men’s underwear to one of a fashionable item. Underwear was no longer just a practical product, rather one that suggested sex appeal, and one that told men that they too can look like male Calvin Klein Underwear models, Antonio Sabato Jr. and Mark Wahlberg.
Klein then moved to a fragrance line, with the introduction of popular fragrances such as Obsession, Eternity, Escape, Ck One, and Contradiction since the late 1970s. Klein was also the first to release a line of unisex fragrances, Ck One, only underscoring his role as a pioneer. With suggestive advertising that linked sex and sexuality to scents, Klein used the power of advertising to make his fragrance line (which includes 9 fragrances) a phenomenal success and an everlasting brand.
Not only a fashion visionary, Klein has also become known as a marketing genius who changed advertising by continuously pushing the envelope a little further. His controversial ad campaigns started in the late ’80s with the Brooke Shields ad, to the waify Kate Moss modeling Ck One and his lingerie/innerwear line in the ’90s. Klein has become notorious for the nudity, blatant sexuality, and use of underage, prepubescent models in his ads, which have not hurt his success in the least.
Thanks to the positioning of “modern, practical fashion, and minimalist-chic,” Calvin Klein’s empire has gone on to encompass lifestyle fashion, with the Calvin Klein Collection for women, men and the home, ck Calvin Klein for men and women, and ck Calvin Klein Jeans for men, women and kids, as well as a beauty and cosmetics line.
Klein has received many accolades for his work and contribution to fashion: he won the Coty Award in 1973, 1974 and 1975 (making him the youngest designer to win these awards), and was awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America Award for design in women and menswear in 1982, 1983, and 1986 (making history as the first designer to receive both awards in the same year), as well as the CDFA in 1993 for both women and menswear, and the America’s Best Designer of 1993 Award.
A member of numerous committees, such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Klein is the designer of choice for celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Helen Hunt, and has influenced designers such as Miuccia Prada and Donna Karan.
Known as “Calvin the Conqueror” and as one of Time’s 25 Most Influential People in America, Klein has a daughter, Marci, with his now ex-wife, Kelly Klein. While he has been married, his days as a bachelor hanging out at the famed Studio 54 could be considered questionable, as can his sexuality.
Thanks to his minimalist designs for urban socialites, provocative advertising, and visionary ideas, Klein has become a 20th century icon.
- CFDA Designer of the year 1993 for best womenswear and menswear
- Known for: Minimal, sophisticated designs; marketing genius.
- DOB: November 19, 1942
- Hometown: Bronx, New York
- Started in the business: 1968
- Education: Fashion Institute of Technology, New York
What you might not know about him
- Calvin Klein started out as a coat company, and moved to sportswear.
- He’s left his mark with some industry firsts, including making utilitarian men’s underwear sexy and the first unisex fragrance, CK One.
- He sold his company in ’03 to Phillips Van Heusen, but remains active in design direction.
- The woman he designs for: Urban sophisticate who values wearable fashions over showy styles or logos.
- Notable quotes:”Fashion is about change and, for me, the philosophy is always the same