One of the most iconic names in the fashion industry is Calvin Klein. Born in the Bronx, New York, the designer became known for a minimalistic approach that sparked a sharp shift towards streamlined clothes for women in the 1970s. From his humble beginnings, Calvin Klein managed to create an award-winning brand with multiple sub-divisions — womenswear, underwear, perfumes, jeans and cosmetics, among them — and a reputation for provocative advertisements.
He Became a Multi-Millionaire in Four Years
It was in 1967 that Calvin Klein started his company along with the help of his friend, Barry Schwartz, who backed him with a $10,000 loan. Little did the two know that they’d turn over $4 million within four years. Success was partly due to Bonwit Teller executive Don O’Brien’s elevator accidentally stopping on their showroom floor. After a glimpse of the Calvin Klein collection, he set up a meeting with the president of the retailer. She placed a $500,000 order that lead to Klein’s designs displayed in all eight of the Bonwit Teller’s windows. Advertisements in the New York Times followed, and it wasn’t long until other prominent retailers sought out to stock Calvin Klein.
Calvin Klein’s Diversity
The label may have started with women’s outerwear in 1967, but it rapidly grew into a more complex brand between the mid-70s and the early ’80s. Calvin Klein expanded into a women’s sportswear line in 1972, debuted the first logo-emblazoned jean on the runway in 1976, started a neutral palette cosmetic line in 1978, and launched the first designer-branded underwear line in 1982.
"You Know What Comes Between Me and My Calvins?"
When Lolita-esque American model Brooke Shields cooed into the cameras, “You know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing,” a sensation was created in 1980. With Shields squeezed into skin-tight Calvin Klein jeans, the advert went on to become iconic. Several TV stations pulled the provocative commercial, but the company saw profits of $2 million monthly from jean sales alone.
The Launch of Kate Moss
In 1992, an American rapper with rippled abs and a waifish teenage English model posed topless wearing nothing but their Calvins. Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg and Kate Moss’s black-and-white underwear advertisement sparked another controversy over the label’s provocative marketing of pretty young things. However, the photograph became another iconic fashion image and sparked the career of one of the world’s most recognizable models, Kate Moss. Her lithe frame later starred nude in the brand’s advertisements for the perfume Obsession, and from there she become not only a recognizable face associated with the brand, but for other high-end designers and fashion magazines as well.
Shirtmaker Phillips-Van Heusen bought the company in 2002, repositioning Klein himself as a consultant while Brazilian-born Francisco Costa assumed the chief designer role for the womenswear collection. Changes within the company’s structure didn’t distill the strong image of the brand as only a few years later it won the International Brand Image Trophy at China’s Fashion Awards in 2005. In 2006, Costa received the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Womenswear Designer of the Year award. Today, Hollywood’s top celebrities continue to shimmer across the red carpet in Calvin Klein designs and top models are still spotted in its advertisements.