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As Calvin Klein celebrates his birthday today, WWD looks back at a lesser-known episode in his career: his 1979 feud with Oscar de la Renta. The gloves were off that September, as the two designers headed to Tokyo to stage their own fashion shows.

This story first appeared in the November 19, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“If one of my girls came out in a dress that was a broom and one of his girls came out dressed in gold,” blasted de la Renta, “my girl would make mincemeat out of his girl.”

According to the designer, the cause for the rift was simple: “Calvin never returned my phone calls.” Apparently, when de la Renta found out that both he and Klein were bound for Japan, he thought, “Gee, how wonderful. We could pool our resources and we could each bring more girls, and each girl could make more money.” So de la Renta called Klein. Three times. He never heard back. The cattiness snowballed. “One well-circulated story accused Oscar of trying to stick Calvin with Alva’s and Pat’s airfare,” WWD reported. “Another accused Calvin of pressuring the girls not to work for Oscar.” After Klein’s show in the New Otani Ballroom — in which he committed the “unpardonable” act of embracing his models onstage, which the Japanese considered “barbaric,” de la Renta sneered, “I was told the show was boring, that nothing worked — the music, the clothes. One dress of mine fills a whole stage. Calvin needs 40 or 50 dresses to make it look like something. He has to send out girls in 10s and fives and threes.”

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