Klein, Calvin Richard

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KLEIN, CALVIN RICHARD

KLEIN, CALVIN RICHARD (1942– ), U.S. fashion designer. Born and reared in a middle-class Bronx community of first- and second-generation American Jews, Calvin Klein – the son of a Hungarian immigrant who owned a neighborhood grocery store – became one of the world's best-known designers. The Calvin Klein label became familiar from Broadway to Beijing and Klein himself made headlines, some of them scandalous, with his provocative advertising campaigns as well as an unconventional lifestyle. His name appeared on everything from jeans to jewelry, from evening gowns to eyewear, and his Eternity and Obsession fragrances are among the world's most popular. By the time he sold his privately owned company in 2003, his products were generating retail sales of $5 billion a year. As a designer, Klein created a particularly American style that was accepted everywhere. Its components: clean, spare sportswear in luxurious fabrics; soft, sensuous evening clothes; layering; and multiple uses for jackets and sweaters.

Displaying a passion for fashion that was evident when he was still a boy, Klein was raised in the same neighborhood that nurtured Ralph *Lauren, the designer who would become his fiercest rival. Klein attended the High School of Industrial Art in New York City, then majored in apparel design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. For the next few years, he took various jobs in the garment industry, including a four-month stint as a copy boy at Women's Wear Daily, the trade newspaper that would write about him for decades to come. In 1968, when Klein was 26, he wanted to open his own business. He went to Barry Schwartz, whom he had known since the age of five, and asked for a loan of $10,000. Schwartz, six months older than Klein, was working at his family's supermarket in Harlem. He loaned Klein the money and two months later, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ensuing Harlem riots, Schwartz walked away from the food business and became Klein's partner. Almost immediately, Klein was championed by Bonwit Teller, one of the country's most prestigious department stores. At first, Klein's firm made only coats and dresses, but in 1973 expanded into sportswear. By then, his designs had begun making regular appearances in the major fashion magazines, but it was around that time that Klein really took off with that most basic item of the American wardrobe: jeans. Calvin Klein jeans, snug-fitting and with the designer's name emblazoned on the back pocket, created an international sensation. Promoted by a now legendary series of television commercials, they were made by Puritan Fashions Corporation, headed by Carl *Rosen. In 1983, Klein acquired Puritan for $68 million, but also inherited a mountain of debt. During the 1980s, Klein expanded his business to include the first successful designer underwear for men and women, and entered the fragrance market with Obsession and Eternity. In 1992, facing serious financial difficulties, Klein was rescued by his friend David Geffen, who purchased all the company's outstanding debt securities. Klein also added a less expensive line of casual apparel and accessories under the ck brand and moved into the home decor and cosmetics markets.

In 1994, he sold the jeans business for $50 million and his underwear business for $64 million, but retained royalty rights in each. He also opened a business in Japan. In 2000, he became embroiled in a contentious trademark infringement suit against The Warnaco Group, the company then licensed to make Calvin Klein jeans. Klein said Warnaco was damaging his reputation and his brand by changing his designs, exercising poor quality control, and selling the jeans to cheap discount stores. A settlement was reached. In 2003, Klein and Schwartz, who had remained his partner since the day the company was born, sold their business to the publicly owned Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. for $430 million, plus other considerations, including a 4.4 percent stake in pvh for both men. Klein agreed to stay on as a creative consultant.

Twice divorced and treated for substance abuse, Klein was frequently fodder for the tabloids. In 1978, his daughter, Marci – then 11 – was kidnapped and held for $100,000 ransom before being released unharmed the following day. And his ad campaigns, from the teenage Brooke Shields provocatively purring, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins," to his overtly suggestive underwear billboards, to the sexual ambiguity of his fragrance commercials, have achieved their own notoriety. At the same time, he has been lauded by the industry. In 1973, he became the youngest designer to win a Coty Award. He won two more in 1974 and 1975. He garnered awards for his men's and women's fashions from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1982, 1983, and 1986, and in 1993 the cfda picked him as Designer of the Year.

[Mort Sheinman (2nd ed.)]