The Early Years
Calvin Richard Klein was born November 19, 1942, in the New York Bronx. Interested in fashion since childhood, a young Klein taught himself how to sketch and sew, and took his innate design skills with him to the classrooms of the New York High School of Art and Design.
Klein then went on the study at the Fashion Institute of Technology (he won places for both his high school and university studies), before heading to become a fashion entrepreneur. In 1968, Klein and childhood friend Barry Schwartz launched an apparel line of men and women's coats. With Klein's talent for design and Schwartz's business savvy, Calvin Klein Limited was on its way to molding the fashion industry.
After Klein and Schwartz met with a buyer form Bonwit Teller, which led to a considerable order, the fashion world was beginning to recognize the talent behind the simple yet sophisticated coat line.
With a name that was making its way in fashion circles, Klein branched out and started his own women's sportswear line, thanks to the encouragement and demand of fashion store executives. By the 1970s, Klein's sportswear line had expanded to include women's apparel, and a whole ready-to-wear line.
In 1968, he first concentrated at first on coats, and by 1969 had landed one on the cover of Vogue Magazine. In 1971 he had began to experiment with sportswear, designing coatdresses, often in knits, hot-pants turnouts, jumpsuits, and classic blazer pantsuits that all shared certain constants of man-tailoring, notably in the way shirts, jackets, and pants were cut and in the use of topstitching. He did not neglect coats; these were available in a range from very casual, made in poplin lined with gingham, to dressier, in tweeds, to almost formal, in suede trimmed with fox.
In 1973, he became the first desginer in history to win three consecutive Coty Awards; it became confirmed that Calvin Klein had become top designer who had his finger on the pulse of American women. Klein had learned while touring the country, that women were becoming more name-concious and wanted to be able to buy their clothing from a single designer, he worked with the concept of a wardrobe of interrelated pieces. One such grouping of pieces, was done all in 1970s beige, was composed of silk evening pants, tank top, shirt jacket, daytime trousers, cardigan sweater, polo shirt, and coat. By changing around various combinations of the individual items, a woman could be dressed for any occasion. This key innovation of Klein's was emulated by many other designers to the present day.
Klein was instrumental in the late '70s-early '80s designer jeans craze. In 1979-80, TV ads shot by Richard Avedon featured featherweight pubescent actress Brooke Shields purring "You know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing" Klein has consistently prospered through provocative advertising. In the '80s TV and print ads for his fragrance Obsession and underwear line used images that were variously pretentious and erotic, but always talked-about. In fall 1992 Klein's often homoerotic underwear billboards helped extend the career of featherweight rapper Marky Mark, and subsequently brought to greater prominence waif model Kate Moss. As this garnered him publicity, Klein's bridge line CK was losing customers to cheaper purveyors of generic sportswear, such as The Gap.
In 1992 Klein's friend, media mogul David Geffen, eased the pressure by buying $60 million of the company's junk bond debt. The next year Klein was the subject of a biography, Obsession, which portrayed him as an omni-sexual drug-fiend during the Studio 54 designer jeans years. In August 1995 a wittily tawdry CK Jeans TV and print-ad campaign shot by Steven Meisel was swiftly withdrawn amid widespread accusations that the company was flirting with child pornography.