The world of fashion is full of names, people who have excelled at revolutionizing and making the whole idea of “fashion” relevant. One of the biggest names in this fashion world is Calvin Klein, a name known internationally by almost anyone. Calvin Klein Inc. started as a coat shop, then later on expanded its market to accessories, swimwear, fragrances, eye wear and the home décor market. The story of how Calvin Klein started his own brand and became one of the most successful American fashion designers is a truly inspiring one, from which any rising entrepreneur may learn from.
Klein was born on November 9, 1942, in Bronx, New York, from a family of Jewish Hungarian immigrants. As a kid, his passion for sewing and designing clothes was already noticeable, as he spent his time sewing and sketching designs for hours – hours that other kids spent playing outside. Later on, he decided to pursue his passion through his education, first at the High School of Art and Design, where he brushed up his designing skills, then to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York to study apparel design. After his university education, he moved on to work for Dan Millstein for two years, as a sketch artist, before becoming an independent designer. He also spent a number of years designing clothing for other New York stores.
Klein founded his brand Calvin Klein in 1968, with the financial help from a childhood friend. It started off as a coat shop, based in New York City’s York Hotel. The chic department store grew an interest for Klein’s designs, purchasing around $50,000 of merchandise and displaying samples in their windows. After the debut of the store, Klein decided to expand his products by adding a line of designer athletic sportswear. Klein started getting recognition for his “sleek, elegant and easy to wear design”, and got featured by Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue on a regular basis. By the early 1970s he introduced his trademark jeans, which he then elevated to designer status by branding his name on the back pocket.
Besides the elegance and simplicity in his designs, disruptive approaches also helped Calvin Klein expand his franchise. With the controversial phrase “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins” used for his advertisements, a jean frenzy erupted among consumers, who started purchasing over 40,000 pairs of jeans a week. Klein also revolutionized the underwear market, as he blurred the distinction between functional and made-to-show-off underwear, which divided the designs of underwear between men and women. He decided to take it a step further, making underwear for men more “provocative”, while also designing masculine bikinis for women. As a result, Calvin Klein has always been under the radar of critics in response to the campaigns of the company, but this disruptive approach to the market has ensured the success of the brand, which keeps expanding its market and asserting its prestige among the many fashion icons of today.
Shanna Wu Pecoraro
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