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Klein, Calvin - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Calvin Klein

fashion time wear design

Calvin Klein Inc.


No single individual has helped American fashion come into its own more than designer Calvin Klein. In the late 1960s Klein reinvigorated the fashion industry just when it appeared to have been abandoned by a generation of anti-fashion youth. In 1972 Klein began creating his flexible collections of interchangeable separates that were elegant as well as casual. Known as a designer of jeans, perfumes, underwear, and provocative advertisements, Klein has succeeded in reinventing himself and American fashion with each passing year.

Personal Life

Calvin Richard Klein was born in the Bronx, New York, on November 19, 1942. The son of Leo and Flore Klein, Calvin showed an early interest in fashion design. He rejected more traditional boyhood activities, and chose to spend his time on sewing and drawing instead. He also spent a great deal of time at Loehmann’s, a high-fashion discount store in the Bronx, to look at the Norman Norell samples and other designer garments. Klein attended New York’s High School of Art and Design and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1962.

Klein has been married twice. From 1964 to 1974 he was married to Jayne Centre, by whom he has a daughter, Marci. In 1996 Klein separated from his second wife, Kelly Rector, whom he had married in 1986.

Career Details

After leaving school in 1962, Klein apprenticed for designer Dan Millstein in New York City’s celebrated garment district. In 1968, with backing from his childhood friend Barry Schwartz, Klein founded his own company called Calvin Klein Ltd., which later changed to Calvin Klein Inc. Focusing at first on outerwear, Klein prospered after receiving a substantial coat order from retailer Bonwit Teller. Several years later, Klein was successful enough to buy out his former mentor Millstein and occupy his offices.

In 1972 Klein expanded his offerings to include women’s sportswear. Working in a neutral palette that Barbara Lippert of Adweek once described as “modern, subdued, [and] monochromatic,” he introduced a signature line of separates such as sweaters, skirts, dresses, shirts, and pants that could be intermixed for a complete day and evening wardrobe. “I felt that the American lifestyle had changed,” Klein explained. “For the most part, women today spend their time and energy working in addition to participating in all aspects of home and community. Their lives have changed and there is little time for wardrobe planning.” His clothes were perfectly suited for women who wanted the look of an outfit with the versatility of separates.

In the late 1970s, Klein was known as a young, wealthy, handsome, and talented designer who often appeared in his own advertisements. Sales of his blue jeans began to slowdown, however, until he unveiled a controversial new advertising campaign. The advertisements, which first ran in 1980, featured teenage model Brooke Shields delivering the tag line, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.” The advertisements were highly effective and his jeans sales nearly doubled. Many were offended by Klein’s use of an adolescent model in a sexually suggestive advertisement, however.

With the success of the 1970s, Klein’s brand appeal led to a host of licensing agreements for such lines as men’s wear, accessories, lingerie, hosiery, and eyewear. He subsequently expanded into fragrances, including such scents as Obsession, Eternity, Escape, CK One, and CKBe. Of these, his unisex fragrance CK One has been particularly successful. Klein also developed a line of housewares.

In the early 1990s, Calvin Klein sold his company’s underwear and jeans divisions to reduce debt. Since that time, the firm has prospered and expanded into global markets. Klein is known for his marketing talents and has hired such famous photographers as Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Bruce Weber, and Irving Penn for his photography shoots and television commercials.

Calvin Klein has enjoyed acclaim throughout his career. As early as 1973, Klein was chosen by 400 fashion reporters as winner of the Coty American Fashion Critics Award. The citation commented on Klein’s "innate but nonconformist sense of classic line . . . and his unique understanding of today’s blend of casualness, luxury, and moderate price. " Klein went on to win two more Coty awards in 1974 and 1975, and on June 25, 1975, he was elected to the American Hall of Fame of Fashion. Professional honors continued in the 1980s when Klein won Council of Fashion Designers of America (CDFA) awards in 1982, 1983, and 1986. In 1994 the CDFA presented Klein with unprecedented dual awards for both men’s wear and women’s wear. In 1996 he was named one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Americans.

Even with numerous awards and enormous commercial success, Klein found himself at the center of controversy again in the mid-1990s. A Klein advertising campaign featuring young, nonprofessional models in intimate poses drew condemnation in 1995. Klein eventually withdrew the advertisements that critics had likened to child pornography.

With the century drawing to a close, Klein was at the helm of an enterprise that in 1996 generated $2.5 billion in wholesale volume. His various lines held worldwide appeal, and Klein boutiques provided retail presence in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Klein told Lisa Lockwood in Women’s Wear Daily, “[G]lobal expansion is a strategy that will take us beyond 2000 to accomplish what we’ve set out to do.”

Social and Economic Impact

Calvin Klein almost single-handedly elevated the status of the United States in the world of fashion design. He brought simplicity, elegance, and luxury to clothing at a time in the early 1970s when gaudy economy was the trend. He used natural fibers like cotton and wool in place of the popular and less expensive synthetics of the day such as polyester and rayon. Klein also rejected the wild use of color so prevalent at that time; he favored neutral earth tones.

In terms of fashion design, Klein’s greatest innovation could be the look referred to as “casual chic.” This style relied on the use of separates that could be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits. Klein gave these casual clothes his fine attention to detail that had been previously reserved for formal couture. He told Lockwood in Women’s Wear Daily, “I’ve always had a clear design philosophy and point of view about being modern, sophisticated, sexy, clean, and minimal. They all apply to my design aesthetic.”

Klein has also been an innovator as a marketer of fashion. His costly and controversial advertising campaigns have, throughout his career, thrust the fashion world into popular culture. The resulting publicity has undoubtedly helped Klein expand his empire from clothing to fragrances and housewares. In the process, he has changed the way fashion is marketed industry-wide. In 1994 he told Bridget Foley of Women’s Wear Daily, “If people set out to be controversial, they’ll never make it. But if something is really good, interesting, and thought-provoking, you get into risk-taking and pushing boundaries and questioning values, and it can be, in the end, controversial. We need newness and excitement in fashion. That’s what it’s about—that’s what puts the fun in clothes.”

Chronology: Calvin Klein

1942: Born.

1962: Graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology.

1968: Established Calvin Klein Ltd.

1972: Introduced sportswear line.

1973: Won first Coty award.

1975: Inducted into the American Hall of Fame of Fashion.

1994: Received dual CFDA awards for women’s wear and men’s wear.

1996: Named one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Americans.

The social impact of Klein’s work extends to the philanthropic efforts he has supported, including donating some of his vast earnings to such programs as the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) and AIDS charities.

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