Accidental Success: Calvin Klein

July 29, 2009

I know, I know…. it’s been a while but I am back now!
Let’s talk Calvin Klein. Surprisingly, he didn’t start off with underwear and sexy clothing like he is famous for today. Ironically, he started with the most non-revealing piece of clothing, coats, and it all began as an accident.

This Bronx born designer was born to Flo and Leo Stern as the second of three children onNovember 19, 1942. Calvin was destined to be in the fashion industry because his grandmother was a seamstress and his mother encouraged his love of art and fashion. Calvin knew what he loved early in life, so while his peers were playing outside he was sketching designs and sewing. He attended the High School of Art and Design. Upon graduation he went to FIT and graduated in 1962. He took up an apprenticeship on Seventh Avenue in NYC for 5 years, he spent that time perfecting his ideas and clothing as well.


It was in 1968 that he and a childhood friend, Barry Schwartz, created a Calvin Klein coat business. How he started is actually very unorthodox. A coat buyer for Bonwit Teller got off at the wrong floor of a hotel and went into Klein’s workroom and placed an order for $50,000.

After his getting rave reviews on his accidental success, he expanded his line to women’s sportswear. Soon after he moved into couture line, Calvin Klein Collection for men and women, CK sportswear for men and women, and CK jeans. He also licensed arrangements for his menswear, coats, accessories, intimate apparel, hosiery, swimwear, eyewear, furs, socks, and fragrances, all under his careful control and management. In the early 70’s he landed the cover of Vogue and in the pages of Harper’s Bizarre.

His jeans and fragrances got him a lot of fans who wanted an affordable ways to get the look of Calvin Klein, his major ones being Obsession, Eternity, and Escape. In 1997 his sales of Calvin Klein jeans was creeping upwards of $500 million.

His jeans were a huge,huge factor in his success. Advertisements with Brooke Shields ( which we may or may not have liked) allows him to sell over 40,000 pairs of jeans per week.

In his own life he married first wife Jayne Centre in 1964 and divorced 10 years later. He has a child from that marriage named Marci. He then goes on to marry one of his design assitant Kelly Rector in 1986 and divorces in 1997.

Calvin and Jayne

Calvin and Kelly

What I am really in love with here is his philospohy. He is into minimalism with neutral tones, designing clothing that works in day and night from season to season.

I was not too fond of his advertising which was really risque, but hey I am sure he knows what he was doing since : A. his sales are going well and B. he studied advertising and drafting in high school. Though his advertising, also referred to as “kiddie porn,” was under heat from Forbes magazine, the FBI and every college course on marketing and communications, he was still successful. However he did pull those ads, but not without the publicity. In a sense the shock value of his ads did work for him and against him at the same time. Who doesn’t like a little controversy huh ?

I do not think that Calvin was a huge fan. He underwent controversial rumors of a gay, drug related life style in addition to AIDs. He toned it down in the 80s and 90s and also started supporting causes such as Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network ( RAINN) and other AIDs related charities.

In addition to harsh rumors, his daughter as kidnapped in the 70’s but she as unharmed. Crazy right ?

In 2003 he sold his company to Phillips-Van Heusen but he still designs for it. Today the company that bares his name rakes in $5 billion in sales per year. Francisco Costa, his Brazilian protege was appointed creative director. Italo Zucchelli oversees menswear and Kevin Carrigan oversees sports wear.

Francisco

Ok, I know you are getting confused. Let’s recap his brands:

  • Calvin Klein Collection (black label, top-end designer line)
  • ck Calvin Klein (grey label, recently repositioned as bridge collection line)
  • Calvin Klein (white label, better sportswear line)
  • Calvin Klein Sport (sports version of the white label line for Macy’s)
  • Calvin Klein Jeans (denimwear line)
  • Calvin Klein Home (high end bedding, towel, bath rug and accessory collections)
  • The Khaki Collection (youthful medium to high end bedding, towel, bath rug and accessories) discontinued in 2008
  • Calvin Klein Golf (launched in late 2007)
  • Calvin Klein Underwear (underwear collections)
  • Calvin Klein: David Perrone Clothing Line(launched in late 2008)

AWARD ME, BABY:

  • 1973 to 1975- won Coty three times in a row ( youngest designer to do so)
  • 1982,1983, and 1986- CFDA award
  • 1982- CFDA Award for women’s and menswear
  • 1993- America’s best designer Award
  • 1993- CFDA both women and menswear Award
  • 1996- Time magazine names him one of the 25 most influential Americans
  • 2001- CFDA lifetime Achievement Award
  • Today he is on the committee of CFDA.

I am definitely feeling his work and he also has some good diversity on his runways. He has worked hard at what he does and built his company up on his own vision of simplicity and sex appeal which, while hated by some, worked out in his favor. The fact that he is still making money in this recession is reason enough to follow in his footsteps. Mr. Klein, you have taught me a lot about success and how it is not about who has the most expensive or extravagant clothing, but who can offer their customers a lifestyle within their clothing. More than just wearing a brand, it’s actually being that brand, living that brand.

LfC1, LfC2, LfC3, LfC4, LfC5, LfC6, LfC7

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