AN ANTI-MATERIALIST TURNS 30 AND WAITS TO GO CO-OP.
Byline: Elsa Klensch, January 1973
Calvin Klein moves restlessly on the U-shaped brown suede sofa in the starkly lit modern Upper East Side apartment he shares with his wife, Jayne, their 6-year-old daughter, Marci, and a huge sheepdog named Snoopy.
“My image is that I’m young, eager and kind of sensitive,” explains Calvin…. “But I’ve just had a very traumatic birthday — I turned 30.
“Five years ago, I knew exactly what I wanted — to have my own coat and suit business. I did it with my school friend, Barry Schwartz, and his $10,000. We’ve surpassed all our expectations. We are constantly refusing takeover offers from public companies. Now the big question we face is just how far do we want to expand.”
“We retail coats and suits from about $140 to $160. Last year our volume was $4 million; this year we expect it to be $4.5 to $5 million.”
At present, expansion plans include taking over the 11th floor at 205 West 39th St. vacated by Dan Millstein — Calvin’s first employer when he graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology — for showroom and offices; the present fourth-floor quarters will be used as a cutting room.
“Negotiating with Dan to take over his showroom when his company went out of business was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. When I first called him about taking over his space, Dan didn’t want to talk to me and our relationship got so bad that I finally had to leave everything to Barry.”
Ironically, Calvin believes that a major reason for his own company’s success is that so many coat and suit manufacturers have disappeared from the scene.
“We have very little competition, and that’s what makes it easy for us. So many people today say there is no coat business. My God, there’s plenty of it around. I wouldn’t mind a little more competition — it makes me work better.”
Calvin and Barry want into the “contemporary” price range in 1967, he says, because he saw a void in the market. “There has always been a couture level of clothes, which I always thought was kind of dead. The level beneath couture interested me — clothes that are good looking but also young…clothes that Jayne and her friends would wear.”
Calvin met Jayne, who is 10 months younger than he, when they were both students at F.I.T. “And we’d lived most of our lives in the same Bronx neighborhood, so it was practically a girl-marries-boy-next-door-story.
“Jayne is constantly in my mind when I design. She is our kind of customer; she grew out of wearing junior clothes five or six years ago. She wanted something better. But she certainly wouldn’t buy clothes on a couture level. They’re too old and too expensive for her.
“Our kind of customer just doesn’t believe in spending that kind of money on clothes. They’re not that important to her. She’ll spend it on travel or decorating, but not on clothes.
“She likes to look ‘today,’ but she doesn’t want to spend all day worrying about what she will wear at night. She’s very secure about herself and her clothes.”
The Kleins have moved four times since their marriage eight years ago, the most recent move from Forest Hills, where their favorite night out was hearing a rock concert at the Forest Hills Music Festival.
They’ve been in their present apartment for 18 months and have had it extensively decorated by John Stedila, a young decorator whose work they saw in a magazine.
“We moved here because we knew the building would probably go co-op,” says Calvin, who is still waiting for it to happen. To get an apartment the size they wanted, the living room was expanded by knocking down a wall and “adding on” a bedroom and bath (now a wet bar) from the next apartment. “We’ve spent a lot of money fixing it up. Jayne keeps kidding me that the moment it’s completely finished I’ll want to move.
“I probably will. My only real hobby is studying the Sunday New York Times real-estate section. I think I must know the apartment market as well as any agent. We go apartment-looking even now. And if we found something we like better, I’d think nothing of leaving here — even after all we’ve gone through in decorating it.”
But Calvin reckons that his real major hang-up is that he “eats, sleeps and drinks the fashion business….It’s really true that if you’re going to be successful you have to work at it hard. I’m completely disorganized about everything except my own business.
“We travel a lot, but I don’t consider I’ve had a real vacation in five years. Wherever we are, when I walk down the street my eyes are on something that someone else is wearing.”
“My job is my hobby as well as my work. At night when I’m home I’ll sit down to relax, then maybe I’ll do 100 sketches.
“I should exercise — some mornings my back tells me, just bending over to brush my teeth. But I just don’t have the patience. Two years ago I joined a gym+.I was so exhausted the evening I went that I took a cab from 39th to 34th St. I paid the $200, but I never went back.”
Calvin is in the office by 8 each morning and leaves about 7. “Until this summer I worked six days a week+then we rented a house in Amagansett and started going there weekends.
“In the beginning it was seven days a week in the shop — and often 24 hours a day. Barry and I would ship until 3 in the morning and then sleep on the convertible sofa in the showroom.
“There isn’t any job in the place I haven’t done — and I’m really proud of it.”
Now Calvin and Jayne send Marci to Dalton. (“When I pick her up at a friend’s after a party,” says Jayne, “I’m the only mother — everybody else is a maid.”) They’ve also replaced Calvin’s stolen Jaguar with a Mercedes and are looking for land to build a house in Easthampton, but he insists he has no status symbols: “There is not any one thing I own that would upset me greatly if I lost it. I”ve started collecting some things — old lithographs, posters. But I don’t intend to keep them the rest of my life. I want to constantly change things. If I had everything I wanted, it would be a bore.”
As for today’s mood in fashion, Calvin says his favorite French couturier is Yves St. Laurent because “he is the only one who’s in touch with young people today.”
On this side of the Atlantic, he says, “When I was at school I loved the things Tiffeau did, and today I think Chester Weinberg is one of the most talented designers. He is one of the few couture-level designers doing younger clothes.
“But there are really no leaders in fashion today. No one really can dictate what fashion will be from season to season. It’s not good or bad — it’s just what’s happening.
“The customer doesn’t care how talented or friendly a designer is….If his clothes don’t work for her, she won’t buy them.
“You get the message when you’re in a store and a woman tells you she’s shortening your coat because she doesn’t think the length is right for her.”
Calvin believes that many stores are underplaying the customer.
“The styles that sell best in our collection sell equally as well in New York, Chicago and Denver. It makes no difference. Maybe years ago what sold in New York one season would sell in the Midwest the following year. But television has changed all that.”
Calvin sees big changes taking place in retailing in the ’70s.
“Most people I know tend to shop in specialty stores because they find the kind of merchandise — sportswear, day clothes and evening wear — that they like best. And they keep going back to that store.
“If department stores are going to keep up with the times they will have to change their coat, suit and dress departments to ‘resource departments.’ Buyers will shop resources rather than markets. Everything I have to offer — coat or dress — should be sold in the same department and bought by the same buyers. If I put two good dresses in a collection and they’re bought by the dress department, they get lost. But if they are sold along with my other clothes, they get snapped up.”
But Jayne has the last word.
“Barry sums up Calvin’s attitude to business this way; ‘He’s the easiest man in the world to get along with, as long as he gets exactly what he wants.”‘