US fashion designer, founder of Calvin Klein Inc., who became known for his simple clothing lines, highly successful underwear range, and perfume items. He founded the company in 1968, popularized designer jeans in the 1970s, and revolutionized fashion advertising – often controversially – in the 1980s and 1990s.
In the 1970s Klein moved into leisurewear, and designed jeans with his logo on the back pocket, which achieved huge popularity, partly through the advertising campaign used to promote them. Facing bankruptcy in 1992, Klein was bailed out by Hollywood producer David Geffen. He turned the company around with the continued success of his underwear and fragrance lines, as well as a new clothing line called CK. The company was acquired by the Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation (PVH) in 2002.
Klein was born in the Bronx, New York. Largely influenced by his mother's interest in art and fashion, he started sketching designs for women's clothes as a child. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1962, he worked as an apprentice for small New York fashion houses, designing clothes in his spare time. In 1968, he founded his own business together with childhood friend, Barry Schwartz (1942– ). His first break came after a chance meeting with a buyer from US department store Bonwit Teller, who gave him a $50,000 order for his coats as well as publicity in Vogue magazine.
In the 1970s he designed a range of leisurewear, which became known as the ‘Calvin Klein Look’. He then revolutionized the blue jeans market by emblazoning his name on the back pocket of millions of pairs and promoting them through a legendary advertising campaign using the US actor Brooke Shields (1965– ). His later advertisements, such as the 1982 commercials to promote men's designer underwear, provoked a great deal of controversy, and in 1995 Klein withdrew an advertising campaign for designer jeans following allegations that it violated child pornography laws, but did not face prosecution.