Calvin Klein is a fashion designer praised for his minimalist yet chic range of clothing lines. Born in the Bronx, he has built an empire that transformed denimwear, women’s activewear, and men’s underwear. Aside from his creations, he has also made a lasting impression with his provocative ad campaigns. Beyond the infamy and the controversy surrounding one of America’s top designers, here are the following facts:
1. He comes from an immigrant Jewish family.
- Klein’s mother was a dentist descended from Austrian immigrants, and his Hungarian father owned their family’s grocery store in Harlem.
- His grandmother was a seamstress who inspired young Calvin’s interest in fashion.
2. Klein worked tirelessly to perfect his craft.
- He spent most of his time as a teenager sewing, studying designs, and sketching women in suits and dresses.
- For five years, Klein worked long nights and weekends as an apprentice for a suit and coat manufacturer.
3. He was discovered by accident.
- His childhood friend gave Klein $10,000 to start his business. He rented a small workroom at a hotel and sold women’s coats of his own design.
- A buyer from Bonwit Teller, a large New York department store specializing in high-end women’s apparel, was lost in the hotel and wandered into Klein’s room. Following a $50,000 deal, Klein became popular with the press and was urged to expand his line to women’s sportswear.
4. Klein’s design philosophy lies in extreme simplicity.
- His clothing is cut with clean, modern lines, and comes in earth or neutral colors.
- Klein’s pieces can be worn with others to form various combinations and work with different ensembles, regardless of season or time of day.
5. He revolutionized jeans and underwear.
- Klein changed the denim market by introducing the first pair of designer jeans. His tight-fitting jeans brought his brand to cult status.
- He created the first masculine underwear for women and elevated the status of men’s innerwear with a successful line of boxer shorts.
6. Klein’s ad campaigns generated high publicity (and outrage).
- Many of the ads featured young models in sexually provocative poses. Among them was fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields.
- President Bill Clinton and his wife publicly denounced the ads. The US Justice Department launched an investigation into the models’ ages.
7. Klein’s ads have parallels to his personal life.
- He has freely spoken of being intimate with women and men. His ads featured slender women and muscular men, bringing them into contemporary mainstream.
- Klein struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, going to rehab twice. Some of his ads featured the models participating in a glamorized version of drug culture.
From a small coat company, Calvin Klein has expanded from fragrances to hosiery to bedsheets, creating an impressive line all under one brand. His uncomplicated yet classical designs have made him a household name and one of the most successful fashion designers of all time.
What’s your favorite Calvin Klein design?