October, 7th 2012
An American Designer
Calvin Richard Klein was born and raised in New York City's borough of the Bronx. He decided he wanted to be a fashion designer at an early age, most probably as a result of the influence of his grandmother. Leo and Flora Klein were his parents. They both worked in the grocery business. Flora’s mother, Molly Stern was an accomplished seamstress. She operated a notions shop and tailoring business where Calvin spent a lot of time as a child. (Marsh) Calvin attended P.S 80, a public school that a lot of other famous people attended including Penny and Gary Marshall and Ralph Lauren. (Marsh) At P.S 80 he excelled in art and drawing and upon graduation went to the High School of Industrial Art. After that he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. (Marsh) After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1963, he worked for women's coat and suit manufacturers in Manhattan's garment district before opening his own business in 1968. He did not study with any other notable designers but he relied on his childhood friend Barry Schwartz for career advice. Schwartz loaned him $10,000 in start-up funds and joined the firm a month later, after the family supermarket in Harlem that Schwartz had inherited was gutted in the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. (Int’l Directory) Klein rented an unimpressive showroom to exhibit a small line of samples. His big break came when a vice-president at Bonwit Teller stopped at the wrong floor of the building, liked what she saw, and invited Klein to bring his samples to the president's office. Klein wheeled the rack of clothes uptown personally. 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. Bonwit's gave the merchandise incredible exposure, with window displays in its flagship Fifth Avenue store and full page advertisements in the New York Times. Soon after, Calvin Klein was bombarded by orders. The fledgling company booked $1 million worth of business in its first year, reaching sales volume of $5 million by 1971. (Int’l Directory)
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. (Gaines) 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. (Gaines) Advertising was the key to Klein's success. He kept the media talking about him by creating controversial ad campaigns. 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." (Marsh) 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.(Gaines) 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...