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November 19: The King of Underwear

November 19, 2014
calvinklein2Calvin Klein, who built an empire of blue jeans and underwear using eroticized imagery of brawny young men and not-quite-of-age young women in his advertising, was born in the Bronx on this date in 1942. His father was a grocer; his grandmother taught him how to use a sewing machine. He attended the High School of Art and Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology, from which he never graduated. Klein founded his company in 1968, and in 1973 he became the youngest recipient of the fashion industry’s Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award (which he won in three successive years). It was Klein who launched the “designer jeans” craze by emblazoning his name on the back pockets of extra-tight pants; in 1978, he reporting selling 200,000 pairs of his jeans the first week they were on the market, and soon enough, everyone was serving as walking advertisements by wearing labeled clothing. In the early 1980s, Klein also revolutionized the men’s underwear market with color and pattern and different styles that made “sexy” no longer the exclusive province of women’s underthings. Klein’s advertising campaigns have been subjected to protests (against “kiddy porn”) and to censorship more than once, which has garnered his company tons of valuable free publicity and “anti-establishment” panache. Klein has been twice married to women and has also been romantically linked with various men. To see the first Brooke Shields ad for Calvin Klein jeans, look below. “You know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” —Brooke Shields, 15, in the ad that made the brand notorious Updated 9 Nov 2014: Typo corrected, as per the comments.