Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein, Fashion Designer , NYC

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Calvin Richard Klein (born November 19, 1942) is a well-known American fashion designer. In 1968, he launched the company that would later become Calvin Klein Inc.

In addition to clothing, Calvin Klein also gave his name to a range of perfumes, including CK One and CK Be (fragrances for both genders), now owned by Coty Inc. Swatch Group manufactures watches and jewelry under the Calvin Klein and Calvin Klein Jeans brands.


Born Richer Klein in The Bronx to Jewish Hungarian immigrants, he attended the High School of Industrial Art and he graduated, at 20 years of age, from New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. He did his apprenticeship in 1962 at an oldline cloak-and-suit manufacturer and spent five years designing at other New York shops. He later launched his first company with a childhood friend.

Klein was one of several design leaders raised in the Jewish immigrant community in the Bronx, New York along with Robert Denning and Ralph Lauren. Calvin Klein became a protégé of Baron de Gunzburg through whose introductions he became the toast of the New York elite fashion scene, even before he had his first mainstream success with the launch of his first jeans line. Later, speaking in an interview with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol for Interview magazine, published not long after the Baron's death, Klein said: "He was truly the greatest inspiration of my life... he was my mentor, I was his protégé. If you talk about a person with style and true elegance-- maybe I'm being a snob, but I'll tell you, there was no one like him. I used to think, boy, did he put me through hell sometimes, but boy, was I lucky. I was so lucky to have known him so well for so long." Calvin Klein was immediately recognized for his talent after his first major showing at New York Fashion Week. Klein was hailed as the new Yves Saint-Laurent, and was noted for his clean lines and straight cuts on coats and suits.

In 1968, Klein and his childhood friend Barry Schwartz, who was to manage the business, then initially founded Calvin Klein Ltd., a coat shop in the York Hotel, in New York City with $10,000. The legend goes that a year later a buyer from Bonwit Teller got off the elevator on the wrong floor, and ended up placing a $50,000 order. It is more likely though, that Klein showed his work to Bonwit Teller staff, which led to the first Calvin Klein collection: a line of men's and women's coats featured at the New York City store.

In 1969, Mr. Klein, who was later described as "the supreme master of minimalism," appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine. By 1971, sportswear, classic blazers as well as lingerie were added to his women's collection portfolio.

In 1973 he was awarded the Coty Award for the first time, which he received for three consecutive years, for his 74-piece womenswear collection. By 1977, annual revenues had jumped to $30 million, and he had licenses for scarves, shoes, belts, furs, sunglasses, and sheets. Klein and Schwartz were making $4 million each. After the company signed licenses for cosmetics, jeans, and menswear, Klein's annual retail volume was estimated at $100 million. In 1978, Klein claimed sales of 200,000 pairs of his famous jeans the first week they were on the market. By 1981, Fortune magazine figured Klein's annual income at $8.5 million a year. In the mid-1970s, he had created a designer-jeans craze by putting his name on the back pocket. The jeans were famously advertised with a commercial featuring a 15-year-old Brooke Shields cooing in 1979/80 that "nothing comes between me and my Calvins" and "I've got seven Calvins in my closet, and if they could talk, I'd be ruined." Controversial advertising, including a series of ads featuring adolescents in sexually evocative poses, has been a recurring theme for the company. Shields advertised for Klein underwear in 1984 as well.

In the late 1970s, the company also made attempts to set up its own fragrance and cosmetics business, but soon withdrew from the market with big financial losses. In the 1980s, as the designer-jeans frenzy reached its all-time high, Calvin Klein introduced a highly successful line of boxer shorts for women and a men's brief collection which would later gross $70 million in a single year. Calvin Klein's underwear business, promoted later in the 1990s with giant billboards showing images of pop singer "Marky Mark" Mark Wahlberg, was so successful that his underpants became generally known as "Calvins."

The stunning growth continued through the early eighties. The licensing program, which brought in $24,000 when it was initiated in 1974, had royalty income of $7.3 million ten years later. That year, worldwide retail sales were estimated at more than $600 million. Klein's clothes were sold through 12,000 stores in the United States and were available in six other countries. His annual income passed $12 million.

Financial problems, increased pressure from all sides, disagreements with the licensee of the menswear line and its disappointing sales as well as an enormous employee turnover both within Calvin Klein and its licensing partners led to the first rumors that Calvin Klein Industries, as the company had been known by then, was up for sale. And indeed, in late 1987, it was said that the sale of the company to Triangle Industries, a container manufacturer, had only failed because of the crashing stock market.

Although the company almost faced bankruptcy in 1992, Calvin Klein managed to regain and increase the profitability of his empire throughout the later 90s, mainly through the success of its highly popular underwear and fragrance lines, as well as the cK sportswear line. Mr. Klein was named "America's Best Designer" for his minimalist all-American designs in 1993, and it came as a surprise in 1999 when it was announced that CKI was again up for sale. Planning to expand its business, the company had been approached by two luxury goods companies, LVMH and Pinault Printemps Redoute, to join Calvin Klein, but nothing resulted. Other potentials like Tommy Hilfiger Corp. and Italy's Holding di Partecipazioni proved to be similar disappointments because of CKI's steep price tag of supposedly $1 billion. After seven months and no potential buyer, Mr. Klein announced that his empire was not on the market anymore. The company would never manage to go public, which had supposedly been Mr. Klein's plan once.

In mid-December 2002, Calvin Klein Inc. (CKI) was finally sold to shirt maker Phillips Van Heusen Corp., whose then CEO Bruce Klatsky was the driving force behind the deal, for about $400 million in cash, $30 million in stock as well as licensing rights and royalties linked to revenues over the following 15 years that were estimated at $200 to $300 million. The sale also included an ongoing personal financial incentive for Mr. Klein based on future sales of the Calvin Klein brand.

CKI thus became a wholly owned subsidiary of PVH. In the beginning, Mr. Klein himself, who was included as a person in the 15-year contract he had signed with PVH, remained creative head of the collections but then continued as an advisor (consulting creative director) to the new company from 2003 on and has since been more withdrawn from the business.

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