Born: New York, USA 1942
Born to Jewish-Hungarian immigrants, Calvin Klein attended a high school of art and design and followed on to study clothing design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology where he met his future wife Jayne Centre. Without graduating, Klein instead began working as an apprentice for a cloak and suit manufacturer in 1962. With his skills and ideas of New York’s urban styles, Klein set out to launch his own company. With financial backing from a childhood friend, Barry Schwartz, he commissioned a seamstress to produce a small range of coats and dresses in 1968.
A merchandiser from Bonwit Teller visited Klein’s showroom and was impressed with his collection. The department store bought the products and displayed the samples in eight of their shop windows. Through meeting the fashion editor Baron de Gunzburg, Klein became his protégée. With help of Gunzburg, Klein was introduced to the New York fashion elite and his designs began to be regularly featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. With his first show at New York Fashion Week, Klein was hailed as the new Yves Saint Laurent, praised for his use of simple, clean lines.
In 1974 Klein divorced from Jayne Centre with whom he had had a daughter, Marci. In the same year Klein introduced his trademark tight fitting jeans, elevating them to success with a series of provocative advertisements’ including Brooke Shields shown lying across a billboard wearing blue jeans with the seductive byline, ‘Nothing comes between me and my Calvin’s’.
In 1982 he launched into underwear, adding style and his logo to the apparel, following this he gradually expanded into swimwear, accessories, hosiery and eyewear. The late eighties saw Klein branch into fragrances with him launching two; Obsession and Eternity, one after the other in the 1990s. In the early nineties he developed a diffusion line CK and then went on to developing a home wear brand.
1995 saw Klein come under criticism for his provocative advertising campaigns. Rousing anti pornography advocates, Klein pulled some of the adverts after being denounced by President Bill Clinton.
Honoured with many awards, Klein has won the Coty Award in 1973, 1974 and 1975 and was awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America Award for design in women and menswear in 1982, 1983 and 1986. He also received the CDFA in 1993 for both women and menswear, and in the same year, the America’s Best Designer.
In 2002 the company was sold to Phillips Van Heusen Corp. However, Calvin Klein as a designer personally is known for his simple, modern designs, an urban style of sexy, clean, minimal and sophisticated clothing.
In 2003, Klein and his business partner, Barry Schwartz, sold their company to Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation for $430 million. In 2016, Raf Simons assumed the role of chief creative officer, unifying the brand’s divisions and bringing a fresh perspective.
Calvin Klein’s advertising campaigns have consistently generated attention for their sexually provocative nature, particularly those targeting young audiences. Notable examples include a controversial commercial featuring Brooke Shields and ads featuring young models that drew criticism for their suggestive imagery. While the campaigns sparked controversy, they also showcased serene sensuality and an appreciation for the human body. Throughout his career, Klein collaborated with a diverse range of models, actors, and performing artists, including Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Mark Wahlberg, and Kendall Jenner. Renowned photographers such as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Mario Testino captured the essence of his brand.
In his personal life, Klein has been candid about his intimate relationships with both women and men, choosing not to label his sexual identity in interviews. He draws inspiration for his ad campaigns from his personal experiences. Klein has been married twice, first to Jayne Centre, with whom he shares a daughter named Marci, and later to Kelly Rector. He has been open about his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, seeking treatment in rehab centres in Minnesota and Arizona.
Calvin Klein Biography