Skip to main content
Select Source:

Klein, Calvin

KLEIN, Calvin

American designer

Born: Bronx, New York, 19 November 1942. Education: Studied at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1959-62. Family: Married Jayne Centre, 1964 (divorced 1974); child: Marci; married Kelly Rector, 1986 (separated). Career: Assistant designer, Dan Millstein, New York, 1962-64; freelance designer, New York, 1964-68; Calvin Klein Co. formed in partnership with Barry Schwartz, 1968, daughter Marci kidnapped (released unharmed), 1978; Brooke Sheilds jeans commercial debuted, 1980; men's underwear introduced, 1982; purchased Puritan Jeans, 1983; Unilever secures fragrance license, 1989; company reorganized with help of music mogul David Geffen, 1992; debut of less expensive cK line, circa 1993; jeans and underwear businesses sold to Warnaco, 1994; flagship store opened on Madison Avenue, New York City, 1995; first freestanding cK store, Kent, 1999; second cK store, Manchester, 2000; trademark infringement suit filed against Warnaco, 2000; lawsuit against Warnaco settled, 2001; fragrances include Obsession, 1985, Eternity, 1988, cK one, 1994, cK be, 1996, also Escape, Contradiction, Truth Calvin Klein. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1973, 1974, 1975; Bath Museum of Costume Dress of the Year award, 1980; Council of Fashion Designers of America award, 1993; named one of the "25 Most Influential Americans" by Time, 1996; Lifetime Achievement award, Council of Fashion Designers of America, 2001. Address: 654 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA.

Publications

On KLEIN:

Books

Morris, Bernadine, and Barbara Walz, The Fashion Makers, New York, 1978.

Perschetz, Lois, ed., W, The Designing Life, New York, 1987.

Coleridge, Nicholas, The Fashion Conspiracy, London, 1988.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.

Howell, Georgina, Sultans of Style: Thirty Years of Fashion and Passion 1960-1990, London, 1990.

McDowell, Colin, The Designer Scam, London, 1994.

Gaines, Steven, and Sharon Churcher, Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein, New York, 1995.

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.

Le Dortz, Laurent, and Béatrice Debosscher, Stratégies des Leaders Américains de la Mode: Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Liz Clairborne, Polo Ralph Lauren, et Tommy Hilfiger, Paris, 2000.

Articles

Peer, Elizabeth, "Stylish Calvinism," in Newsweek, 3 November 1975.

Brown, Erica, "The Rag Trade to Riches Rise of Calvin Klein," in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 29 April 1980.

Cleave, Maureen, "Calvin Klein," in the Observer (London), 7December 1980.

Alter, Jonathan, and Ann Hughey, "Calvin and the Family Firm," in Newsweek, 12 December 1983.

Sherrid, Pamela, "Ragman," in Forbes, 15 February 1982.

Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A., "Between Me and My Calvins," in Forbes, 9 April 1984.

Morris, Bernadine, "Calvin Klein Keeps It Smart and Simple," in the New York Times, 1 May 1985.

Brady, James, "In Step with Calvin Klein," in Parade (New York), 26October 1986.

Hume, Marion, "The Secret of My Success," in Fashion Weekly (London), 27 August 1987.

Brampton, Sally, "Drawing a Klein Line," in Elle (London), January 1988.

Gross, Michael, "The Latest Calvin: From the Bronx to Eternity," in New York, 8 August 1988.

Orth, Maureen, "A Star is Reborn," in Vogue, September 1988.

Howell, Georgina, "Mr. Klein Comes Clean," in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 10 September 1989.

"Calvin Klein's Obsession," in Cosmopolitan, May 1991.

"Calvin Klein's Bold Strategy in U.S., Europe," in WWD, 19 June 1991.

Behbehani, Mandy, "Nothing Between Success and Calvin," in the San Francisco Examiner, 30 January 1992.

Grant, Linda, "Can Calvin Klein Escape," in the Los Angeles Times, 23 February 1992.

Sloan, Pat, "I Don't Have Long-Term Plans. I Just Act Instinctively," in Advertising Age, 18 May 1992.

Mower, Sarah, "Calvin in Control," in Harper's Bazaar, 11 November 1992.

Hirshey, Gerri, "The Snooty Dame at the Block Party," in the New York Times Magazine, 24 October 1993.

Morris, Bernadine, "Master of Ease," in the New York Times, 6February 1994.

Brampton, Sally, "Calvin Clean," in Marie Claire (London), August 1994.

Reed, Julia, "Calvin's Clean Sweep," in Vogue, August 1994.

Beckett, Kathleen, "Slip-sliding to a Close: Calvin Klein," in the New York Post, 5 November 1994.

Spindler, Amy M., "Klein and Karan: Clothes that Do the Job," in theNew York Times, 5 November 1994.

"New York: Calvin's Minimal Magnetism," in WWD, 7 November 1994.

Spindler, Amy M., "Luxurious Armor by Karan, Klein, Mizrahi," in the New York Times, 8 April 1995.

"Calvin Cool Edge," in WWD, 10 April 1995.

Kaplan, James, "The Triumph of Calvinism," in New York, 18September 1995.

Elliott, Stuart, "To Be or Not to Be? To Young People It's No Question, Klein Says," in the New York Times, 14 August 1996.

Young, Vicki, "Calvin Klein Jeanswear Suing Conway for Infringement," in WWD, 29 August 1996.

Lockwood, Lisa, "Calvin's Credo," in WWD, 22 July 1997.

Ryan, J., "With Quips and Kisses, Wachner Takes Over CK Jeans Business," in WWD, 15 December 1997.

Goldstein, Lauren, "Clever Clavin Sells Suits Like Socks," in Fortune, 23 November 1998.

Lockwood, Lisa, "Calvin's Model Moment," in WWD, 9 June 2000.

"Calvin Klein," in Business Wire, 13 June 2000.

"Calvin Klein's Truth is in the Scent," in Cosmetics International Cosmetic Products Report, August 2000.

Shiloh, Dina, "Calvin Klein Helps to Bring Jordan and Israel Together," in the Times (London), 22 August 2000.

Sellers, Patricia, "Seventh Avenue Smackdown: Calvin Klein and Linda Wachner are Going Toe-to-Toe in a Bitter Suit," in Fortune, 4 September 2000.

Wilson, Eric, "Calvin Klein: After 33 Years in Businesses, the Designer Remains True to His Quest for Modernity While Searching for What's Next," in WWD, 5 June 2001.

Cojoucaru, Steven, "Behind the Seams," in People, 2 July 2001.

***

An indisputable genius in marketing, a recognized wizard in fashion financing, a charismatic image-maker and image himself, Calvin Klein is the quintessential American fashion expression of the last quarter of the 20th century and still world renowned in the 21st century. The energy of his identification with jeans in the late 1970s and early 1980s, his later frontiers of underwear, and his consistent edge for advertising image in print and media have rendered him a vivid figure in the landscape of American cultural life.

A sleazy, potboiler biography of Klein was published in 1995, titled Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein, not only taking its title from his popular fragrance and beauty products line but Klein's chameleon-like ability to be many things in the fashion industry. Years before, Michael Gross had already described Klein's life in New York magazine (8 August 1988) as "an extraordinary odysseya sort of one-man pilgrimage through the social history of modern America." Yet Klein is homegrown hero to young America, the elusive image of the creator as megapower and carnal charmer, the recurrent American worship of those few who achieve absolute power in a democracy. In his decades as a top designer, Klein has established himself as a veritable obsession. He has only intensified this stature in spiraling success that challenges, yet flourishes in, the very visible arenas of fashionable culture.

Is Klein a designer? Suffused with aura and surrounded by negotiationcommercial and socialKlein might seem to have sacri-ficed his essential métier as a designer. Significantly, he has not. His sensibility for minimalist aesthetics, in an active lifestyle with the ethos of sportswear, is as evident today as it ever was. Klein's clothing is as judicious as his marketing is advanced: streamlined clothes worn with ease prevail, with influences as far flung as Vionnet, Halston, di Sant'Angelo, and Armani. Klein's best eveningwear gives a first impression of delicacy and refinement, characteristically avoiding linings and complications, as the wearer enjoys an unexpected freedom and mobility.

Klein's fashion is the quintessence of American fashion expression and tastehis minimal construction promotes mass manufacturing; his ease allows comfortable dressing in all sizes and shapes; his penchant for quality wool, cashmere, cotton, and other feel-good textile luxuries affirms a sense of luxury in clothes otherwise so undistinguished in their simplicity as to pass unnoticed. Although in a 1994 press statement Klein avowed that "Everything begins with the cut," one does not think of cut and construction in the traditional fashion measure of Vionnet or Madame Grés. Klein's spare cut is not truly architectural; it is unobtrusive or, in the words of Bernadine Morris, writing in the New York Times in May of 1985, "without frills."

Klein's marketing of jeans, underwear, and fragrance were consistent in their aggressive even opportunistic address to gender and sexuality. Beginning with 1980 television advertising conceived by Richard Avedon and Klein using young model Brooke Shields, Klein steadily set and stretched the parameters of America's acceptance of overt sensuality in promotion of fashion and in public, with displays ranging from national television campaigns to Times Square billboards, and to print media. Klein's campaigns have been progressive, seeming in each instance to build upon and move beyond the first provocation and the inevitable acceptance of the prior campaign.

Defining the public protocols of the 1980s and 1990s, Klein made a distinct cultural contribution to advertising. He not only took the design of jeans and underwear to new heights, but brought gender into the fray as well. He was unerringly responsible for the surge of gender-sharing fragrances launched in the middle and late 1990s, as well as pushing the envelope with daringly sexual displays in adversitising.

James Brady wrote of Klein in Parade in October 1986: "His success is so enormous, his income so vast, his lifestyle so lavish, that we tend to forget that in life there are no free rides." And so controversy has often surrounded Klein as much as celebrity; but it is incontrovertible that Klein altered the landscape of modern American fashion and its perception as only a genius and a giant canin an epoch of uncertainty and recriminations, Klein's imperfect but ever-upward course prompted dispute and jealousy. Yet he demonstrated, over and over, that his unerring fashion sense would prevail.

Klein's enduring success has been a balance of the no-nonsense fashion designer with the pretentious and unpredictable commercialism of the fashion industry. Since 1994 Calvin Klein Inc. has grown into a fashion empire producing everythingincluding menswear, womenswear, fragrances and skincare products, eyewear, socks, and pillowcases (Calvin Klein Home, a home fashion collection, was introduced in April 1995). Bearing the Calvin Klein name has grown into a lifestyle revered around the world; it is known in countries even where his products are not sold. Klein believes American clothes are an advantage in the global marketplace; nearly 90-percent of his business is through worldwide licensing agreements.

Klein has continued to receive notoriety from the publicity surrounding his advertisements. In 1995 his cK Jeans advertising campaign was pulled because of accusations of child pornography. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani led the uproar in 1999 over a Times Square billboard showing seminaked youngsters. Even though Klein's advertisements are seen as inappropriate, his design philosophy has remained consistentto keep the clothes modern, sophisticated, sexy, clean, and minimal. He once told Time magazine, "I've never been one to see women in ruffles and all kinds of fanciful apparel. To me it's just silly."

Klein confirmed in 1999 that he was looking ways to expand his business. He hired financial advisers to seek opportunities to develop his business through a merger, or by selling or developing other strategic options. Confirmed reports said Prada, Gucci, LMVH, and Ralph Lauren showed interest in purchasing Calvin Klein, Inc. Warnco, which owned the Calvin Klein underwear and jeans businesses, made an offer but the parties failed to agree on control of Calvin Klein trademark usage. In a statement, Klein said the "strongest path to growth lay in remaining an independent, privately held entity." As of 2001, both Klein and his company remained independent and private.

Richard Martin;

updated by Donna W. Reamy

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Klein, Calvin." Contemporary Fashion. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Klein, Calvin." Contemporary Fashion. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/klein-calvin

"Klein, Calvin." Contemporary Fashion. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/klein-calvin

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein

One of America's top fashion designers, Calvin Klein (born 1942) first made a name for himself by designing clean, uncomplicated sportswear. But he kept his name before the public by creating sometimes shocking and always news making advertising campaigns.

Klein was born in 1942 in the Bronx, New York, where he spent all his childhood. As a youth he taught himself to sketch and sew. He attended the High School of Art and Design, moving on to the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology. He spent five years as an apprentice in a coat and suit house on Seventh Avenue in New York City, working long nights and weekends to hone his own designs.

In 1968 he and close friend and financial backer/adviser Barry Schwartz created a Calvin Klein coat business. The first order was obtained purely, and ironically, by accident when a coat buyer from Bonwit Teller got off on the wrong floor of a hotel and wandered into Klein's workroom. She placed an order for $50,000, which was a hugh amount at that time. Encouraged by the fashion press' exaltations and store executives' support, Klein expanded his line to include women's sportswear.

Klein's world soon included his couture line, Calvin Klein Collection for men and women, CK sportswear for men and women, and CK jeans. He also licensed arrangements for his menswear, coats, accessories, intimate apparel, hosiery, swimwear, eyewear, furs, socks, and fragrances, all under his careful control and management. Of the many categories licensed, denim jeans, along with fragrances, built a large following among consumers who sought an affordable way to attain the designer's cache. By 1997 sales of Calvin Klein Jeans approached half a billion dollars.

Marketing Approach Was Never Subtle

Advertising was a key to Klein's success. He stoked the media with controversy that kept his name in the news. He was the first to design women's underwear that looked like men's jockey shorts. His television ads for jeans starred child-star Brooke Shields, who exclaimed: "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." In the process, Klein developed a reputation for pushing the envelope of acceptability in his campaigns. Ads of the mid-1990s featured underage teenagers (not professional models) in sexually provocative poses that were particularly risque, and were characterized by many as socially irresponsible. Dubbed "kiddie porn" by the press, the campaign was singled out by Forbes magazine as the worst marketing campaign of 1995. He even attracted government attention: the FBI and Justice Department investigated the company for possible violations of child pornography laws. The ads were universally denounced, but in the end, the Justice Department ruled that they were not pornography. And, yes, Klein pulled the ads, but not before the accompanying publicity had made the Calvin Klein brand name a part of everyday conversation..

His three major fragrances—Obsession, Eternity, and Escape—were huge successes, also due in part to the shock value of advertising. His television ads for Obsession featured British waif model Kate Moss nude with her Italian photographer boyfriend whispering, "I love you, Kate," as she wades through ocean waves, nervously chews her long straight hair, and runs through island huts and gardens to the sounds of beating hearts, insects, wind, and surf.

Advertising for his new fragrances, cK One and CK Be, continued to challenge the public's social conscience, with some reflecting a gritty, hard life reality in which decimated teens (this time older, professional models) appeared to be part of an idealized drug culture. Again, the ads drew criticism; this time, President Clinton admonished the fashion industry not to glamorize addiction, but to speak out against the "heroin chic" style of fashion photography being used. Klein continued to profess innocence, saying that his ads are never meant to shock or create controversy. The ads of the 1990s, according to the designer, represented a departure from phony airbrushed images that were not connected to the reality of today's world.

Design Philosophy Affirmed

While he unceasingly altered his image in the media with the changing times— incorporating rock and roll, grunge, and waif models as well as the homo-erotic and cynical-chic images of drug use conceived by top fashion photographer Bruce Weber—his design philosophy remained rooted in minimalism. At the same time his advertising for jeans and fragrances was being criticized, Calvin Klein clothing was receiving critical acclaim for its clean, modern lines. Time magazine called him the Frank Lloyd Wright of fashion, and named him one of the 25 most influential Americans in 1996.

Klein won the prestigious Coty Award three times in a row (1973-1975), becoming the youngest designer to ever have that honor. In 1982, 1983, and 1986 he also captured the Council of Fashion Designers of America Award. In addition to his professional achievements, he built a financially strong company with the continued advice and help of partner Barry Schwartz who guided the company through tough financial times in the late 1980s. His worldwide empire was rivaled by few designers.

Nicknamed "Calvin Clean"

In his personal life Klein also weathered the times. He married Jayne Centre in 1964 but divorced in 1974. They had one child, Marci. After battling rumors of a gay, drug-related lifestyle and AIDS, he shocked the industry by marrying one of his design assistants, Kelly Rector, in 1986. None of the bad publicity seemed to affect sales. Perhaps coincidentally, Klein assumed a lower profile and quieter lifestyle during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He also began sponsoring programs such as "Unlock the Silence," to support the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), as well as various benefits for AIDS. In early 1997 his marriage appeared to be faltering, and a separation was announced.

Klein was unquestionably a stylish survivor as he approached the twenty-first century as a top fashion designer, still appealing to his clean-minded, career-oriented customers. But he also reached a growing group of hip teens and twenty-somethings with his increasingly street-chic women's fashions of tuxedo denim jackets, crinkled poet blouses, velvet priestly evening vestments, and Edwardian men's jackets worn with cuffed jeans.

Further Reading

For further information on Calvin Klein and the fashion industry see Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion (1988), McDowell's Directory of 20th Century Fashion (1987), Contemporary Designers edited by Ann Lee Morgan (2nd ed. 1990), and NY Fashion: The Evolution of American Style by Caroline Rennolds Milbank (1989). A 1994 book by Steven Gaines and Sharon Churcher, Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein, was reportedly displeasing to its subject. More can be learned by reading the following periodicals: Fortune (January 13, 1997, AdWeek (September 23, 1996), Time (June 17, 1996), the New York Times (February 10 and 18, 1997), and Billboard (September 7, 1996 and January 11, 1997). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Calvin Klein." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Calvin Klein." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/calvin-klein

"Calvin Klein." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/calvin-klein

Klein, Calvin

Calvin Klein

Born: November 19, 1942
Bronx, New York

American fashion designer

One of America's top fashion designers, Calvin Klein first made a name for himself by designing clean, uncomplicated sportswear. He kept his name popular with the public by creating sometimes shocking and always news-making advertising campaigns.

His early years

Calvin Richard Klein was born on November 19, 1942, in the Bronx, New York, where he spent all of his childhood. Klein was the second of three children born to Flo and Leo Stern. The family lived relatively comfortably. His grandmother was a seamstress and he acquired his love of sewing from her. His mother encouraged his love of art and fashion.

Klein attended the High School of Art and Design, which prepared students for careers in advertising and drafting. As a youth, while others his age were playing sports, Klein was busy studying, sketching fashion designs, and sewing. Later he moved on to the esteemed Fashion Institute of Technology, graduating in 1962. He spent five years as an apprentice (a student working toward learning a skill) in a coat and suit house on Seventh Avenue in New York City, working long nights and weekends to perfect his own designs.

In 1968 Klein and close childhood friend Barry Schwartz created a Calvin Klein coat business. The first order was actually obtained by accident. A coat buyer from Bonwit Teller (a large New York City clothing store) got off on the wrong floor of a hotel and wandered into Klein's workroom. She placed an order for $50 thousand, which was a huge amount at that time. Encouraged by favorable reviews from the fashion press and the support of store executives, Klein expanded his line to include women's sportswear.

Klein's world soon included his couture (fashionable custom-made women's clothing) line, Calvin Klein Collection for men and women, CK sportswear for men and women, and CK jeans. He also licensed arrangements for his menswear, coats, accessories, intimate apparel, hosiery, swimwear, eyewear, furs, socks, and fragrances, all under his careful control and management.

Of the many categories licensed, denim jeans, along with fragrances, built a large following among consumers, who sought an affordable way to attain the Calvin Klein look. By 1997 sales of Calvin Klein Jeans approached half a billion dollars.

Marketing approach was never subtle

Advertising was the key to Klein's success. He kept the media talking about him by creating controversy (open to dispute). He was the first to design women's underwear that looked like men's jockey shorts. His television ads for jeans starred Brooke Shields (1965), who proclaimed: "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins."

Klein developed a reputation for pushing the boundaries of acceptability in his campaigns. Ads of the mid-1990s featured young teenagers in provocative poses that many regarded as socially irresponsible. Klein eventually cancelled these ads, but not before the accompanying publicity had made the Calvin Klein brand name a part of everyday conversation.

Klein's three major fragrances, Obsession, Eternity, and Escape, were huge successes, also due in part to sexually-suggestive advertising. Advertising for his fragrances, CK One and CK Be, continued to challenge the public. Some ads showed teens taking part in what some regarded as an idealized drug culture. At this time, President Bill Clinton (1946) admonished the fashion industry not to glamorize addiction. Klein replied that these ads represented a departure from phony airbrushed images that were not connected to the reality of today's world.

Design philosophy affirmed

Klein's design philosophy is rooted in minimalism (extreme simplicity). He typically uses neutral colors or earth tones (browns), and designs separates (articles of clothing designed to be worn interchangeably with others to form various combinations) that work in many different ensembles, from day to night and season to season. At the same time his advertising for jeans and fragrances was being criticized, Calvin Klein clothing was receiving critical acclaim for its clean, modern lines.

Time magazine named Klein one of the twenty-five most influential Americans in 1996. Klein won the prestigious Coty Award three times in a row (19731975), becoming the youngest designer to ever have that honor. In 1982, 1983, and 1986 he also captured the Council of Fashion Designers of America Award. In addition Klein built a financially strong company with the continued advice and help of partner Barry Schwartz, who guided the company through tough financial times in the late 1980s. Few designers have rivaled his worldwide empire.

Klein's personal life also weathered the times. He married Jayne Centre in 1964, but they divorced in 1974. They had one child, Marci. He married one of his design assistants, Kelly Rector, in 1986.

Klein is known for his "casual chic" clothing, stylish but casual designs created for active women. He is undoubtedly one of the most successful American clothing designers today.

For More Information

Fortune (January 13, 1997).

Gaines, Steven, and Sharon Churcher. Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1994.

Milbank, Caroline R. NY Fashion: The Evolution of American Style. New York: Abrams, 1989.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Klein, Calvin." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Klein, Calvin." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/klein-calvin

"Klein, Calvin." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/klein-calvin