Calvin Klein Ltd - A History

Written by Leanna Serras

Known for its classic, American style, Calvin Klein has become an internationally celebrated design company. Starting with a line of women’s coats in the 1960s, Klein quickly built a fashion empire. While many brands suffered during economic downturns in the early 1990s, Calvin Klein’s classic, yet always innovative, style managed to keep the company in the forefront. Whether they are introducing underwear as a designer must-have, or angering media watchdog groups with their sexually charged advertising, the company is always consistent in its design philosophy. Specializing in all facets of fashion, Calvin Klein’s company has made its mark in clothing, fragrance, and jewelry, while his controversial ad campaigns have left memorable impressions over the decades.

The Brand

Known for its classic, American style, Calvin Klein has become an internationally celebrated design company. Starting with a line of women’s coats in the 1960s, Klein quickly built a fashion empire. While many brands suffered during economic downturns in the early 1990s, Calvin Klein’s classic, yet always innovative, style managed to keep the company in the forefront. Whether they are introducing underwear as a designer must-have, or angering media watchdog groups with their sexually charged advertising, the company is always consistent in its design philosophy. Specializing in all facets of fashion, Calvin Klein’s company has made its mark in clothing, fragrance, and jewelry, while his controversial ad campaigns have left memorable impressions over the decades.

The Brand

For 40 years Calvin Klein has had a consistent and strong brand identity in which clean, simple lines define an elegant, iconic style. Maintaining an image of accessible luxury has made the Calvin Klein brand one of the most successful in the fashion industry. The uniquely classic designs of Calvin Klein can be seen in all aspects of the brand’s clothing, fragrances, jewelry, and accessories. Known as much for its provocative advertising campaigns as it is for its design’s sleek lines, the brand has consistently gained the attention of the public. It can be credited with revolutionizing designer jeans in the 1980s and pushing the boundaries of sex in advertising. Philips-Van Heusen acquired the brand in 2003, allowing it to continue its international growth. The Calvin Klein brand can be found in dedicated retail stores, outlet stores, and department stores all over the world.

Calvin Klein - the designer

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Calvin Klein first made a name for himself in the 1960s with a line of coats. He broke into the global market in the 1970s. At that time, designer clothes were only for those that could afford them. Calvin Klein’s line of jeans with his signature on the back pocket merged high fashion with mass appeal. During the 80s, sexy and controversial ads kept his name in the media’s consciousness and he brought underwear into the forefront. The 70s and 80s also saw the introduction of several fragrances. Once named one of America’s 25 most influential people by time magazine, he is known for his chic, casual designs and daring advertising.

Phillips-Van Heusen

The history of Phillips-Van Heusen (PVH) goes back to the 1880s, when George Bass started his shoe company in Maine. A few years later, in 1881, Moses Philips started selling shirts out of a pushcart. This would be the first shirt company to advertise in the Saturday Evening Post. Separately, John Van Heusen was granted a 1919 patent for shirts with self-folding collars. Van Heusen and Phillips formed a corporation together, and later bought Bass shoes. Since then, the corporation has grown into a major fashion distributor with over 700 outlets worldwide. Headquartered in Manhattan, PVH acquired the Calvin Klein brand in 2003. Other brands that are wholly owned by PVH are Van Heusen, Izod, Arrow and Bass. They also license brands like Chaps and Kenneth Cole.

Clothing

Calvin Klein’s line includes both women and men’s wear. The Calvin Klein designer jeans continue to have their own branch of the company and distributors. The traditional Calvin Klein Black Label Collection is known for being elegantly chic. This is the high end of the collection and is shown at the fashion weeks of New York and Milan. The designs are classic with sleek lines. A fashion reviewer recently called Calvin Klein’s latest collection “a work of art.” Calvin Klein’s White Label consists of the casual, sporty designs that can be found in retail outlets and Calvin Klein Outlet Stores. Calvin Klein pioneered designer underwear and, in addition to department stores, the underwear can be found around the world at retailers dedicated completely to this line.

Fragrance

Licensed by Coty of New York, the current collection of Calvin Klein fragrances include the lines of CK, Euphoria, Eternity, Calvin Klein Man, and the famous Obsession line. Eternity was introduced in 1985 as a unisex fragrance. It can be described as a floral scent with sandalwood backgrounds. Kate Moss introduced Obsession during the same year, also as a unisex fragrance. It is a spicy, citrus blended with peach and lemon. While Eternity and Obsession are probably the best known of Calvin Klein’s fragrance collection, the company has periodically revisited them. Eternity has had the limited editions of Rose Blush and Purple Orchid for women, and a unisex form called Eternity Summer. Eternity Moment remains a permanent part of the collection, as does Obsession Night.

Advertising

Calvin Klein’s ad campaigns are almost as well known as the company’s products. The 1980s brought about a trend in Calvin Klein’s advertising that would stay with the company. It became known for sexy, controversial ads, often using young and under-age models. When a 15-year-old Brooke Shields suggestively declared that nothing would come between her and her Calvin jeans, there was much discussion about the appropriateness of it. No matter how people felt about the commercial, it did what it was intended to do. It got people talking about Calvin Klein and put the brand into the American consciousness. The campaigns for their fragrances were no less provocative.  While recent years have seen the apparent age of Klein’s models, the ads continue to push the envelope. A recent ad campaign was accused of giving the impression of the aftermath of an orgy, and a commercial featuring actress, Eva Mendes was banned from US television. Almost 20 years after the original sexy jeans ads, Calvin Klein is still keeping people talking.

Models

Calvin Klein’s clothing collection has always been a favorite among celebrities, and the company often uses celebrities as the models in their sexually charged ads. In the last decade, the company has moved away from using young models and has looked toward using more celebrities who are already in the public eye. Brooke Shields was one of the first and most famous of Calvin Klein’s spokes models, while Kate Moss introduced the fragrance collection and has had a long relationship with the designer. Mark Wahlberg was chosen to introduce the underwear line for men and Kellan Lutz has been rumored to replace him. Eva Mendes was one of the most recent models for the company and her television ad campaign was so provocative that it was banned from US television.