Designer Focus: CALVIN KLEIN

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You may have noticed that the 90's is having a bit of a moment. Whether it's crop-tops, double denim or matte lipstick we are all hankering after that nostalgic look.

Calvin Klein was the king of this cool, laid-back style in the 90's. 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. From a young age, Klein knew that he wanted to be a fashion designer. Throughout his teenage years he spent hours sketching women in coats and dresses.

Klein went on to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York from 1959-62. He then acted as assistant to Dan Millstein for two years before becoming an independent designer. Klein was inspired by the fresh, understated look of New York's urban youth and in 1968, with the financial backing of his childhood friend Barry Schwarz, he created his own company - Calvin Klein Inc.

The company started by selling quality coats, but after a substantial order from Bonwit Teiler, he was able to expand into sportswear and later underwear, perfume and a ready-to-wear collection.

By the 90's Calvin Klein was an established brand. Klein had spent the 70's and 80's meticulously building up his company. The 70's saw Klein introduce his acclaimed jeans collection fronted by a fresh-faced, fifteen year-old Brooke Shields. In 1982 the company brought out their underwear range worn by both men and women. The decade also saw the creation of the famous fragrances: 'Obsession', 'Eternity' and 'Escape'.

This was the start of Calvin Klein's revolutionary advertisement campaigns. Through the use of clever, provocative imagery he was one of the first designer's to make essential pieces into a desirable product.

Klein pioneered the grungy, edgy look that we associate with the 90's today. The decade became the anti-fashion of the 80's as it moved away from the wholesome look of supermodels such as Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Elle Macpherson.

Although we see Calvin Klein as a relatively safe fashion choice today, his campaigns over the past few decades have caused extreme controversy amongst both the fashion industry and the general public. The bad boy designer changed the style of the innocent and clean American youth into a more edgy, dirty aesthetic - and their parents hated it!

Here at Rokit we have got together Calvin Klein's top five controversial ad campaigns. Enjoy!

Brooke Shields - Quick. Lock up your daughters!

Brooke Shields was the first to cause controversy. At only fifteen she modelled and starred in the 1979 campaign for Calvin Klein Jeans. The advert shocked the public with the provocative line, "You know what comes between me and my Calvin's? Nothing."

Mark and Kate

Just over ten years later Klein caused controversy once again. Arguably, Klein's most influential campaigns was in 1992, shot by photographer Herb Ritts, it featured a relatively unknown Kate Moss and then aspiring rapper 'Marky Mark', aka Mark Wahlberg. (We're glad you stuck to the films Mark!)

The images show a then seventeen-year old Kate Moss sitting topless whilst straddling the rapper. The gossip on set was that the photo shoot didn't go entirely to plan. Recently Mr Klein himself commented, "It didn't go too well, [Kate] didn't like [Mark] at all." (We don't get it either. Look at his brooding face!)

The campaign stirred up mixed emotions within the public. It glamorised the young, vulnerability of Kate Moss with the simplicity of the jeans and underwear. However, featuring a young model in such a provocative position caused people to question the over-sexualised images. On the up side, for Mark and Kate, it propelled them into fame and pushed their careers forward. Without this Calvin Klein job they may not have become the superstars they are today!


Following on from the 1992 campaign with Mark, Kate went on to star in Calvin Klein's perfume ad 'Obsession'. The televised advert featured a scrawny looking Kate Moss floating around the screen whispering obsession over and over again. Klein came under fire because the vacant stare and strung-out look Kate acted out was said to promote drug-use. The campaign glamorised the pale skin, dark circles and skinny bodies that the 90's went on to embody. The media dubbed the look as 'Heroin Chic'. (Who needs chocolate eh!? Um, we do...)

70's Porn Auditions

One of the most controversial campaigns Calvin Klein produced was in 1995 for his diffusion brand 'cK'. The images were shot in a wood panelled basement featuring young models in various states of undress. (We're sensing a theme!) The video shows the models answering provocative questions from a man we don't get to see. His deep, gravelly voice tells the models how good they look. One of the questions was, "Do you work out?" (Ew!)

The whole campaign took on a kind of bad, 70's, amateur porn vibe and the public was repulsed by it. Klein claimed that the advert was meant to show that glamour is an inner quality and can be found in regular people in a regular setting. Surprisingly (ahem!) this didn't go down too well and The Justice Department was forced to investigate until Calvin Klein showed proof of age for some of the models.

Lara Stone WTF

Now we fast-forward a few years to 2011 and Lara Stone's Ck One perfume ad. It seems obviously provocative with Lara Stone looking right into the camera lens with nothing more than underwear on, but when you look more closely there is a subliminal message hiding in the image. It actually spells out F**k. No, really. The 'F' is found at Stone's hip in the shape of the table and the 'U' is in the shape of her bra. When you put it next to the 'ck' it's not so well hidden. We're not sure how Calvin explained that one...

Modern day Calvin

Despite all this controversy Calvin Klein's net worth is $700 million dollars! It seems as though we are attracted to that kind of edgy, controversial nature that is so well promoted throughout Klein's campaigns. It's genius really. Who doesn't want to be seen to be a little bit different and daring?

It helps that he keeps the clothes modern, sexy and minimal. Even though the 90's have been and gone his look stays timeless. The grunge style may have been chopped and changed throughout the past decade yet it still stays true to its roots. In essence it's a little bit worn in, unassumingly sexy and most importantly understated.

Calvin Klein today

Klein continues to pander to our mischievous side as he cast Lara Stone and Justin Bieber for his spring 2015 jeans campaign. We must say it was a slightly odd pairing as there is an eleven year old age gap between the two celebrities, but it wouldn't be Calvin Klein if it wasn't a little bit controversial now would it!? It was, however, extremely reminiscent of the Kate and Mark campaign in 1992 - and we know that worked well for everyone!

The most recent offering by Calvin Klein stars supermodel Kendall Jenner at the forefront of the campaign. Clever Klein has done it again. Kendall's style is a little cleaner that past campaigns but she still has that 90's androgynous, undone look. His choice of models seems paramount to his success. Who wouldn't want to look like Mossy, Lara or Kendall Jenner! Even Bieber has some appeal in the Calvin Klein ads!

If you want to jump on the fashion bandwagon, check out Rokit's range of 90's styles. Follow the links below.