History & Marketing Strategies of Calvin Klein

Company: Calvin Klein
Founded by: Calvin Richard Klein

Calvin Klein Incorporated, better known internationally by its brand name Calvin Klein, was founded in 1968 by Calvin Richard Klein in the city of New York, USA. The company is one of the most well-known fashion labels in the world with significant presence in multiple categories like leather, lifestyle accessories, perfumery, home furnishings, watches and ready-to-wear luxury products.

The brand is currently owned by the Philips Van Heusen (PVH) Group and is headquartered at Manhattan, New York. The brand primarily targets the affluent upper middle class and positions its products and designs as exclusive “haute couture” pieces with its high-end designer lines often promoted by supermodels and celebrities of the movie industry all over the world.  

The Beginning

Calvin Richard Klein was born as the son of Mr. Leo Klein and Mrs. Flore Stern Klein in 19th November, 1942 at the Bronx area of New York, USA. He completed his early schooling from Rooney Middle School and attended the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. He later joined the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology at New York, from where he later received an honorary doctorate degree in 2003.

From 1962 onwards, Calvin Klein learnt his craft on the job itself, apprenticing under many cloak-and-suit manufacturers at many shops in New York City. 

He decided to start his own venture by partnering with his close friend, Barry K. Schwartz. They opened Calvin Klein Limited, a suit shop at the famous York Hotel in New York City with a small capital of 10,000 dollars.

Calvin Klein found fame on the local fashion scenario with the unveiling of his first designer collection at the popular New York Store Bonwit Teller. The collection was described as “youthful, understated coats and dresses” and was appreciated by the discerning clothing aficionados. In 1969, Calvin Klein appeared on the cover of Vogue Magazine, which again helped to boost sales of his designer collections.

By 1971, Calvin Klein Incorporated was already selling lingerie, sportswear and classic blazers. Calvin Klein’s immense talents as a designer were further recognized on a nationwide platform when his collection of seventy-four dresses received the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award in 1973.

He would go on to win this prestigious award for a further two years, in 1974 and 1975. Thus, Calvin Klein’s five-decade long journey to the top of international fashion industry had started to gather momentum in the early 1970s. 

Marketing Strategies and The Road to Success

By the latter part of the 70s, Calvin Klein’s annual revenue had increased to 30 million dollars annually. He has also procured licenses to sell a host of other fashion and home accessories apart from his main designer lines which included scarves, furs, sunglasses, shoes, belts and bed sheets. Casual menswear and jeans were added into the product repertoire later, which further boosted his annual revenue. 

His signature jeans created quite a stir on the fashion market, the company claiming sales of over 200,000 units on its launch day itself. The company also launched its own brand of cosmetics and perfumes during this period. Calvin Klein gained international popularity by revolutionizing the concept of men’s underwear through innovative promotions and introducing style in the daily-used but least discussed product. 

The license for the product line was purchased back in 1974 and it started showing results in the eighties by earning over 7 million dollars in royalties alone. In 1985, for example, Calvin Klein’s worldwide revenues were estimated to be around 600 million, sold primarily through 12,000 stores in the USA and in other overseas countries like United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Japan through licensing agreements.

During the 1990s, Calvin Klein had become a household name in the USA and was gaining worldwide fame at a fast pace. An innovation by the head of the menswear division of the company which was named “boxer briefs” helped the company regain its frontline position in the underwear category during this period. Coupled with the success of its perfumes, Calvin Klein had finally become the proud owner of a global brand in the fashion industry of the world. 

The Calvin Klein brand has been a major force in the global fashion industry and has been responsible for pioneering many popular trends and styles of its various products. It has a significant international presence currently in categories like fashion apparel, fashion accessories, fragrances, cosmetics, home linen with offices in over twenty one countries across the globe. Its luxurious flagship retail outlet in Madison Square Avenue at New York, USA attracts thousands of buyers every week, while many famous departmental stores like Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor also displays its collections. 

Calvin Klein created a global phenomenon with the bold promotion of its newly-designed boxer briefs in the early 90s featuring Mark Wahlberg wearing the product in a series of printed advertisements. Klein was also named as America’s best designer in 1993 for his minimalist, All-American clothing designs. Later during the decade, he planned to expand his business and ultimately partnered with the PVH Group in 2002 who currently is the owner of the Calvin Klein brand for most of its product labels.

Promotions and Campaigns

Advertisements had played a significant part of Calvin Klein’s marketing strategy since its inception and rise to fame. The earliest print advertisement photo shots were done by eminent fashion photographers Richard Avedon and Bruce Weber.

One of the male models used in the famous underwear campaign, Mark Wahlberg, later went on to become a successful movie star in Hollywood. Other famous supermodels like Kate Moss, Natalia Vodianova, and Toni Garrn have promoted the brand during the 1990s and 2000s. 

The tradition of using models and movie stars continues to this day as the brand receives huge mileage through the huge fan following of such famous celebrities. Currently, globally popular movie stars like Scarlett Johansson, Justine Bieber, Eva Mendes, Alexander Skarsgard, Zoe Saldana and Jake Gyllenhall are some among many to have promoted the brand at various points of their career. 

Reality TV stars like the Jenner and Kardashian family have featured in the recent Internet campaign of the company, #MYCALVINS, which serves to highlight the importance of family in the modern society along with product promotions. Another socially aware promotional campaign by the company is #IAMWOMEN – which focuses on women empowerment and gender equality.

The company had also conducted several direct marketing campaigns to allow its customers to communicate directly with the brand ambassadors, resulting in further promotion of its products. In 2015, the company had spent as much as 320 million dollars globally for its promotional expenses.



To sum up, the Calvin Klein brand is the quintessential American success story – the son of an immigrant reaching the pinnacle of fashion industry on the basis of his talent and hard work. With the financial might of PVH firmly behind the globally recognizable brand, the future of Calvin Klein looks bright with further upswing of its vast business. 

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