Calvin Klein

Lauren Bowes

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA224

Calvin Klein was born in 1942 in the Bronx, New York. He graduated from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology in 1963. During the early 1960s, he worked at the influential fashion trade magazine Women’s Wear Daily, and as an apprentice for the designer Dan Millstein. In 1968, at the age of twenty-five, Klein established Calvin Klein Ltd., which grossed an impressive $500,000 in the first season. His success continued and subsequently he was awarded three consecutive Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards in 1973, 1974, and 1975, which firmly consolidated his eminence in the fashion industry. To further aid the growth of the company, Klein also launched Calvin Klein Jeans in 1976, Calvin Klein Underwear in 1983, and a highly lucrative fragrance range in 1985.

Klein is heralded for his classic, modern approach to design, which champions simplicity and clean lines—the antithesis to the glamorous excesses of 1970s and 1980s fashion. Incorporating modern design with commercial intelligence, Klein is renowned for his business acumen in his approach to advertising, marketing, and corporate licensing. His ability to engage consumers in the Calvin Klein brand was successfully bolstered through innovative advertising campaigns, which featured famous faces such as Mark Wahlberg, Kate Moss, and Brooke Shields, as well as renowned photographers such as Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon. These campaigns were frequently controversial and often had a sexually provocative tone that aimed to achieve an edgy appeal to a youthful audience in the 1990s. The brand is often described as being synonymous with the 1990s and the fashion aesthetic that rose to prominence during this period.

The Calvin Klein brand is firmly established as an iconic American fashion house with several diffusion lines, including Calvin Klein Collection, Calvin Klein Platinum, Calvin Klein Sport, Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Home, Calvin Klein Golf, Calvin Klein Underwear, CK One, and Calvin Klein Watches + Jewelry. In 2002, Calvin Klein sold the company to Phillipe Van Hausen for $700 million and has no formal association with the brand. In the early twenty-first century, the Calvin Klein brand continues to be highly lucrative under the Brazilian creative director, Francisco Costa. In 2012, the company reported record global sales of $7.6 billion.

Calvin Klein, Spring/Summer 1991. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Charleston Beth, and Gretchen Fenston. “Calvin Klein.” In the A-Z of Fashion , Berg Fashion Library, 2010 .

Find in Library Gaines Steven, and Sharon Churcher. Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein . New York : Carol Publishing Group, 1994.

Find in Library Marsh Lisa. House of Klein: Fashion, Controversy, and a Business Obsession . Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley and Sons, 2003.