Ten years after Calvin Klein and Barry Schwartz opened their women’s coat business, they launched men’s tailored clothing and sportswear. Calvin Klein women’s sportswear had already generated fashion waves, garnering three Coty Awards in the process. Men’s wear would add a new dimension to what would become a lifestyle-brand juggernaut.
Retailers had already shown interest in the men’s looks the designer occasionally created as runway showpieces. And by 1978, Klein’s celebrity and his association with the glamorous Studio 54 crowd made him someone men wanted to emulate. Over the next decade, the company’s forays into jeans, underwear, fragrances and provocative advertising were hits with both genders.
Calvin, launched in 1981, was the brand’s first scent for men. The next year, Calvin Klein underwear was introduced at Bloomingdale’s and, as with so many other products, the fashion house’s ads were as much of the story as the product itself. The campaign, featuring pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus, elevated plain white underwear to Olympian heights of sexiness, and forever linked the Calvin Klein brand with male beauty.
The tradition continued with rapper Marky Mark, whose 1992 ads with Kate Moss helped Calvin Klein become an icon for Generation X. Then the hip, more affordable ck Calvin Klein sportswear line launched and quickly hit its stride with the same audience.
The designer men’s wear Collection was another story, having suffered through years of stops and starts related to numerous licensing arrangements. But it has found stability in the current decade, which should be helped by the company taking the Collection business back in-house this year.
Showing Collection men’s wear in Milan since 2002 has helped align the label’s reputation with sophisticated European fashion, not just American sportswear. So has the leadership of Italo Zucchelli, Collection’s Italian-born, men’s creative director since 2003 — the same year Calvin Klein Inc. was acquired by Phillips-Van Heusen, a men’s wear powerhouse.