Born November 19, 1942, in the Bronx, New York, Klein was raised in the borough”s Mosholu Parkway section a middle class Jewish community of first and second generation immigrants. As a teenager, he developed a passion for fashion and drawing, often spending hours on end sketching women in suits and dresses. Following his graduation from the High School of Art and Design, Klein studied apparel design at Manhattan”s preeminent Fashion Institute of Technology, where he met fellow student Jayne Centre. The two married in 1964, two years after Klein completed his course work.
Inspired by the fresh and unpretentious style of New York”s urban youth, Klein set out to launch his own clothing company in 1968. With financial backing from his childhood friend Barry Schwartz, he commissioned a local seamstress to make a handful of coats and dresses. A merchandise manager from Bonwit Teller visited Klein”s dingy showroom and took notice of the collection. Within weeks, the chic department store purchased $50,000 worth of merchandise and displayed the samples in eight of their coveted windows. Shortly after his auspicious debut, Klein created a line of designer sportswear.
Throughout the fashion industry, word spread quickly about Klein and his sleek designs, which were now featured regularly in Vogue and Harper”s Bazaar. In the early 1970s, he introduced his trademark jeans, which he elevated to designer status by cutting them tight and branding his name on the back pocket. A series of provocative advertisements (that had 15 year old Brooke Shields cooing the line, Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.) created a designer jean frenzy among consumers, who were purchasing over 40,000 pairs a week.
In 1982, by adding style and his logo to boxers and briefs, Klein conquered the underwear market. He blurred the boundaries between the sexes, designing masculine bikinis for women. In the late 1980s, Klein entered the fragrance market with the launch of Obsession and
Eternity. The Calvin Klein label expanded over time to include swimwear, accessories, hosiery, and eyewear. In the early 1990s, he started to manufacture a more affordable line of casual apparel and accessories under the brand name CK. With his trademark minimalist designs, Klein penetrated the home decor market, where accessories ranging from bath towels to bedding linens bear his name. His most recent endeavor was Calvin Klein Cosmetics a makeup line sold exclusively in fine department stores. To date, Calvin Klein Incorporated exceeds $6 billion in annual sales.
Throughout his career, Klein has come under criticism for his ubiquitous and controversial ad campaigns, most notably those that featured Kate Moss, Mark Wahlberg, and Antonio Sabato Jr. In 1995, he roused antipornography advocates with a series of commercials that featured adolescents in sexually evocative poses. Klein pulled the ads after being denounced by President Bill Clinton and the Catholic League.
Widely considered the most prominent American fashion designer, Klein was first awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America Award for outstanding design in both womenswear and menswear in 1982, becoming the first designer ever to receive both honors in the same year.
Klein has received many accolades for his work and contribution to fashion: he won the Coty Award in 1973, 1974 and 1975 (making him the youngest designer to win these awards), and was awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America Award for design in women and menswear in 1982, 1983, and 1986 (making history as the first designer to receive both awards in the same year), as well as the CDFA in 1993 for both women and menswear, and the America”s Best Designer of 1993 Award.
A member of numerous committees, such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Klein is the designer of choice for celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Helen Hunt, and has influenced designers such as Miuccia Prada and Donna Karan.
Klein married Jayne Centre, a textile designer, in 1964. They have a daughter, Marci, who currently works as Talent Producer for NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Calvin Klein and Jayne Centre-Klein were divorced in 1974.
In September 1986 Klein married his assistant, Kelly Rector, in Rome while they were on a buying trip in Italy. She later became a well-known socialite photographer. After separating in 1996, the couple divorced in April 2006.