In the world of fashion, certain designers’ names have become synonymous with the looks they create. Such is the case with the American designer Calvin Klein whose signature style is the elegant, well-cut but essentially simple piece that blends classic lines with contemporary appeal. “Everything begins with the cut,” Mr. Klein explained in a 1994 press release. In 1996, Time Magazine dubbed Calvin Klein the Frank Lloyd Wright of fashion. Calvin Klein clothes are simple and elegant.
Calvin Klein’s minimalist aesthetic was certainly a striking contrast to the provocative promotional campaigns that publicized his clothing line. Who can forget the 15 year old Brook Shields purring, ”Nothing comes between me and my Calvins,” in a 1980 ad for Calvin Klein jeans? Or the once and future Mark Wahlberg – then known as Marky Mark – who stopped traffic in 1992 when a giant billboard featuring the young rapper in tight Calvin Klein underwear was erected right in the middle of Times Square?
Calvin Klein was also one of the pioneers of product placement. The scene from “Back To the Future” in which Michael J. Fox wore bright purple underwear clearly labeled “Calvin Klein“ is one of the very first examples of embedded advertising.
Today the 68-year-old Mr. Klein is only minimally associated with the clothing line that bears his name which he launched in 1968. But the Calvin Klein name – or even just his initials, CK – remain a strong selling point for both new styles and vintage fashion treasures.
Calvin Klein’s Life
Calvin Klein was born in the Bronx in 1942. His parents were Jewish-Hungarian immigrants. He taught himself to sketch and sew at an early age, and went on to attend the High School of Art and Design and the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology.
From 1962 through 1968 he worked as an apprentice with Dan Millstein, an old school manufacturer of very conventional looking suits and coats, working on his own designs at night and on weekends.
In 1968, with financial assistance from a boyhood friend, he started his own coat line. Serendipity played a starring role in Klein’s first order: a buyer for the upscale department store Bonwit Teller got off the elevator on the wrong floor and wandered by chance into Klein’s workroom; she was so impressed by the workmanship and the design of the coats that she placed a $50,000 order.
Calvin Klein quickly became the toast of the New York fashion world, expanding into women’s and men’s clothing, a couture line, and inexpensive sportswear for men and women marketed under his initials, CK. In 1973 he became the youngest designer ever to win the coveted Coty Award – which he then went on to win twice more in the two following years. That same year he pioneered the concept of “designer jeans” with the launch of his tailored denim pants collection. By the end of the decade, the Calvin Klein fashion empire included not only his own designs, but products licensed to use his name. Menswear, coats, accessories, intimate apparel, hosiery, swimwear, eyewear, furs, socks, and fragrances, all bore the Calvin Klein imprimatur – which many customers believed was their strongest selling point.
In the 1980s, Calvin Klein Inc began experiencing financial problems, almost filing for bankruptcy in 1992. The company was finally sold in 2002 to the American shirt manufacturer Phillips Van Heusen Corp. Though financial incentives were embedded in the sale in the hopes that Klein would go on designing and Klein nominally remained a consulting creative director, the designer is no longer closely associated with the company that bears his name. The brand continues to flourish without him.
Fashion and Fit
Calvin Klein Inc. may no longer be about the man who created it but as one of the most recognized brand names in the world, the company stands as testimony to Calvin Klein’s creativity and vision. Its product line is so extensive that the true Calvin Klein devotee can wear its labels from head to toe without having to dilute the effect with any other clothing or accessories. Calvin Klein’s aesthetic – clean, dapper cuts with a minimum of fuss, natural palettes – is synonymous with understated elegance. Calvin Klein clothes combine fashion with fit to make minimalism hip.