Date of Birth
November 19, 1942
Place of Birth
The Bronx, New York
Klein was raised in the Bronx in a middle-class Jewish community; and after developing a fascination with drawing and fashion, he taught himself how to sketch and sew. He won a place at New York’s High School of Art and Design, and then went on to study apparel design at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where he met fellow student Jayne Centre. They married in 1964, two years after Klein graduated.
Klein set out to launch his own label in 1968, in partnership with childhood friend Barry Schwartz. They commissioned a local seamstress to make a few dresses and coats, and before long, a merchandise manager from the exclusive department store Bonwit Teller saw the designs and ordered $50,000 worth of stock, which were soon prominently displayed in their coveted windows.
Word quickly spread about Klein and his stylish designs, which began to be featured regularly in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. This early success was accelerated by the introduction of his classic, trademark jeans, which he raised to designer status by cutting them tight and branding his name on the back pocket. Aided by a controversial advertising campaign that featured a young teenage Brooke Shields (“You know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing”), the jeans were an instant success, selling over 40,000 pairs every week.
By 1982, he’d decided to take on the underwear market, releasing a range of boxer shorts and briefs that provided chic under garments for both men and women. Klein followed this up in the late 80s with the launch of his new fragrances: Eternity and Obsession.
The label soon expanded further to include accessories, swimwear, hosiery, and eyewear, and a diffusion line, CK, was created in the early 90s. To date, Calvin Klein Incorporated exceeds $6 billion in annual sales.
Listed as one of America’s 25 most influential people by Time, Klein has helped shape the casualwear industry and played a key role in modern advertising. His ad campaigns have caused several storms of controversy, often featuring adolescents in sexually evocative poses.
Klein is the recipient of many industry awards, including the Council of Fashion Designers of America Award for outstanding design in both womenswear and menswear in 1982; the first designer ever to win both titles in the same year. His fans include celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts and Helen Hunt.
Now twice divorced, he has one daughter, Marci, from his first marriage.