Calvin Klein: A Class Apart

Calvin Klein, the doyen of high fashion, has ruled the business for over forty years. Tight-fitting jeans, ‘Calvins’ underwear, perfumes like Obsession and CK One, and of course, stylish and elegant eyewear. A profile of the man and the brand

Calvin Klein
Calvin Klein stands proud with its impeccable range of fashion wear and accessories

Designer wear to designer sunglasses. Not a quantum leap; just the smartest thing to do for a brand that wants to seamlessly entwine itself into a customer’s life and use its credibility quotient to the fullest. In a space where labels are brandished about with dexterity, Calvin Klein stands proud with its impeccable range of fashion wear and accessories. The luxury house dispenses a wide-ranged array. Fashion wear for men and women, jeans, underwear, fragrances, jewellery, watches and eyewear. The highpoints of Calvin Klein design include the tight-fitting jeans, Calvins–the must-have designer underwear, Obsession, Escape, Eternity, CK One and CK Be–perfumes to die for, and eyewear that underline his style–neat, clean and elegant.

Neat, clean lines with no fuss have been Calvin Klein’s nomenclature. Very early in his designing career he had been asked just what made him like such simple lines for women and he had responded, “I have never been one to see women in ruffles and all kinds of fanciful apparels. To me, it’s just silly.” And this aversion to ‘silliness’ is probably what makes his brand one of the most sought-after and Calvin Klein, 72, revered.

Calvin Klein Collection Women
Neat, clean lines with no fuss have been Calvin Klein’s nomenclature

A New York boy, Calvin Klein, born on November 19, 1942, to Hungarian Jewish parents, was interested in art and design from a very young age. After matriculating from the High School of Art and Design, he joined New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, but quit mid-way. Instead, at 20, in 1962, he joined a cloak and suit manufacturer and spent the next five years designing at various clothing stores. In 1968, he teamed up with his childhood friend, Barry Schwartz and launched Calvin Klein Inc.

In 1974, he designed the first tight-fitting jeans that became his signature style and went on to rake in $200,000 in its first week of sales. He became the first designer to get an award for outstanding design in men’s and women’s wear in the same year. As the years went by, awards came aplenty and recognition soon took the shape of a brand to reckon with.

Calvin Klein has dominated the American fashion scene for nearly forty years. Equally known for his saucy and cheeky advertising as he is for his simple no-nonsense design, the initials CK have come to symbolise a validation of class, style and a benchmark for aspiring designers and yes, models too.

Calvin Klein Collection Male
In 1996, Calvin Klein was named as one of the ‘25 Most Influential Americans’ by TIME magazine

Kate Moss, Toni Garm, Natalia Vodianova, Eva Mendes, Doutzen Kroes, Alessandra Ambrosio and Lara Stone are some of the models who have benefited hugely from being connected to the CK brand. Ad campaigns featuring Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Sabato Jr. have worked wonders for their careers too. Of course it all started when he had taken the 14-year-old Brooke Shields in an ad, sparking off a huge debate on the ‘correctness’ of casting such a young girl. But more the controversy, the better CK jeans sold in the market. His provocative advertisement, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”, made Calvin’s branded jeans a craze amongst the young and sales hit 40,000 pairs a week. The latest model whose body and face marks the success of the brand is Zoe Saldana, who was taken on to be the face of its underwear line, Underwear Envy. He is the designer of choice for celebs like Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Helen Hunt.

In 1996, he was named as one of the ‘25 Most Influential Americans’ by TIME magazine. He is also a three-time Coty American Fashion Critics Award-winner and a past recipient of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003 he got an honorary doctorate from Fashion Institute of Technology, the very place from where he had quit mid-way.

On the personal front, he has been married twice and has a daughter, Marci. After his divorce from his second wife, he remained single.

Strangely enough, for the man who advocated trends by just setting them, he washed his hands off fashion trends some fifteen years back, saying, “They are over fast. As soon as you see them, as soon as you see people wearing them, they are over.”

In 2002, Calvin Klein sold the business to American shirt company Phillips-Van Heusen for $400 million, with another $30 million in stock, and up to $300 million in royalties that was linked to revenues for the next 15 years. Since then, he has switched over to the position of Consulting Creative Director.


Elegant Eyewear For Men And Women
Eyewear forms an integral part of the Calvin Klein brand, both sunglasses and optical frames. There are three eyewear brands within its framework – Calvin Klein Collection, Calvin Klein platinum label and Calvin Klein Jeans.

Of these, Collection is a premium brand and represents a sleek modernity, characterised by provocative and sophisticated designs that blend minimalism with complexity through the use of smart colourations, discrete embellishments and architectural detailing. The platinum label has both sunglasses and prescription glasses, and is a designer sportswear and accessories brand that emphasises modern silhouettes in distinctive colour palettes. Jeans is the third brand in the Calvin Klein house that also has eyewear. Part of the denim range, it is famous for its unique details and innovative treatments.


Latest In Eyewear
The Spring/Summer 2015 Calvin Klein Collection men’s and women’s eyewear stays true to the brand’s distinct identity, fusing minimalism with the latest trends to create a line of sunglasses and optical frames that spells pure luxury. CK7966S is an oversized square men’s sunglass whose neutral colour palette and leather-trimmed temples lend an air of sophistication to the wearer. CK7981, a modified cat eye optical frame, embodies today’s women with its simplicity and strength. Its unique semi-rimless design and innovative cut-out accents at the bottom portion of the lens promise a bold and beautiful look.

An Enduring Legacy
Not afraid to break rules, Calvin Klein chose minimalism in his designs at a time when it wasn’t very popular. Heavily influenced by his personal experiences, his brand of fashion was simple, subtle, clean, and yet sensual, and by creating an alchemy between the designs and the wearer, Calvin Klein’s work always let the person shine through, be the star. Indeed, his creative legacy will always endure, inspiring not only those involved with the world of fashion, but even others.


1962: First job with a cloak and suit manufacturer.

1968: Calvin Klein Inc formed.

1974: Tight-fitting jeans launched, make 40,000 pairs sales a week.

1983: Calvin Klein was placed on the International Best Dressed List.

1993: Calvin Klein awarded America’s Best Designer.

1996: TIME magazine names Calvin Klein as one of the ‘25 Most Influential Americans’.

2002: Sells company for $400 million to American shirt company Phillips-Van Heusen.

2003: Awarded honorary doctorate from Fashion Institute of Technology.

2010: CKI reportedly made a sale of $4.6 billion on its products.



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