February 10, 2007

Calvin Klein

And the man behind the brand is...
Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein and Barry Schwartz were childhood friends growing up in the Bronx. Calvin always seemed to have a knack for knowing which combinations of clothes looked good. When Barry's mother took him clothes shopping she always took Calvin along to hear his opinions.

Klein attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and began work in 1962 as a 20-year old apprentice at $25 a week. Schwartz went into the army but his father was killed in a hold-up at his Harlem grocery store and Barry was discharged to run the store and support the family. He turned the grocery store into a profitable business. In 1968 he offered 50% of the business to his friend Calvin.

Klein was sorely tempted. After six years he had found little success.
But he suggested they both come into his industry instead. Klein invested $2000 and Schwartz $10,000 to start Calvin Klein, Limited. A few weeks later Martin Luther King was assassinated and rioting looters destroyed the Harlem store. Schwartz was in the fashion business full-time.

It was not a boom time in the world of fashion. The Hippie generation was an era of dressing down, anti-fashion. On area where style was still in vogue was women's coats and Klein concentrated his efforts there. He created a classic understated version of the trench coat and personally wheeled his samples through the offices of Bonwit Teller, landing a $50,000 order. Calvin Klein Limited was off.

Klein designed and Schwartz sold. When Klein launched a line of ladies sportswear Schwartz wouldn't sell any popular Klein coats unless the buyer bought the sportswear too. While European designers still emphasized a layered look Klein created clean, classic clothes that showed off women's bodies.

In 1975 Klein announced he would no longer use man-made fabrics and introduced a designer jean. Jeans had been the lowest garment imaginable.
They were popular as a uniform in the grungy 1960s and early 1970s but as fashion came back jean sales fell off. Connie Dowling, a Bloomingdale's buyer, suggested that Klein make a stylish jean and market it as a high-fashion item emblazoned with his name.

Klein priced his new jeans at $50, twice the cost of traditional jeans.
They were a hit and when Klein launched provocative advertising campaigns they became a sensation. For many Americans Calvin Klein jeans were the first designer item they ever owned.

Klein's quality and designs for the masses made America the fashion capital of the world. By the 1980s European designers were copying American mass culture. Stores were selling over one billion dollars of Calvin Klein clothes as he became a celebrity.

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