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Last Updated on March 18, 2022
Calvin Klein is a brand name we all know, if you haven’t heard of this U.S. brand we’ll be very shocked.
The brand was established in 1968 as a coat shop in NYC and is now an international best-selling fashion label with products in every category. But, how did this store go from humble beginnings to worldwide fame?
We’ve investigated Calvin Klein’s design history to explore why they were so popular in the 90s, and what they’re doing now. Keep reading to find out more about this all-American fashion brand!
How did Calvin Klein begin?
Fashion brands that withstand the test of time often have humble beginnings, and this is true for Calvin Klein. When the company was founded in the late 60s as a coat shop, it was actually in a hotel!
Klein studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1960 and progressed into the fashion industry straight after. He graduated with a Fine Arts degree, making him well-versed in the creative arts.
Klein later worked as a sketcher at coat brand Dan Millstein, allowing Klein to view how a brand worked before creating his own. After Klein left this brand, he set up Calvin Klein Ltd and found his first stockist Bonwit Teller. From here the classic brand only got more and more successful, especially after their first runway show in 1970!
Classic American Fashion
Often, when exploring 90s brands like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger, you see them described as “American” brands. If you’re wondering what this means, don’t worry we’ve got your back!
These brands are typically compared and described as all-American as all of the designers were from the U.S. and focused on preppy styles that reflect conservative American culture. Though these brands have evolved their silhouettes, they started with similar design concepts and provided premium clothes for everyday wear.
What clothes is the brand known for?
Though the majority of us probably know Calvin Klein for their unique underwear adverts or trusty jeans, the brand had super successful runway shows in the 1990s making them popular for a range of different clothing styles. The Calvin Klein runway silhouette was always well-tailored, minimal, and had a feminine edge too.
Calvin Klein jeans are also a product that catapulted this brand into the limelight. With provocative adverts, celebrity endorsements, and more, it’s tough to ignore the impact this brand’s denim ranges had on their success.
Of course, we also have to mention the popularity of Calvin Klein underwear. Whether it’s a traditional men’s boxer short, a sports bra, or a thong, this brand always has a monogram band on its garments. Their underwear style focuses on minimal design with an excellent fit, perfect for everyone and always popular too.
Though the fashion brand has a lot of popular clothing products, their signature perfume CK One is also very well-known. This fragrance involved refreshing citrus notes and was launched by Alberto Morillas in 1994. This was also the first unisex perfume to become popular in the U.S. showing how forward-thinking the brand was.
What makes the brand popular?
Arguably, the high-quality clothes and accessories make Calvin Klein a popular brand, however, there’s something about the casual and flirty branding that keeps bringing customers back again! When you look back over the Calvin Klein adverts, campaigns, and catwalk shows, there’s an undeniable cool vibe throughout all of them.
Of course, Calvin Klein’s countless collections and accessories can’t be ignored, but their aspirational marketing style played a large part in their success and popularity too!
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Who is their target market?
The brand focused its marketing on younger adults and the teen demographic through this laidback style. Often certain products, like the CK One perfume, were targeted at hormonal teenagers. This often explains their more sexual advertising, making the brand aspirational for young adults. Their runway shows offered a more sophisticated style that was targeted at young professionals too, giving them options for the office and drinks after work.
Is Calvin Klein considered a designer label?
Calvin Klein offers a range of high-quality products and luxury accessories, but are they truly a designer label? Calvin Klein is indeed a designer brand, however, they sit at the lower end of the fashion house spectrum. They’re more aspirational than high street options but are not at the premium luxury level of high fashion houses like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, or Chanel.
Has Calvin Klein experienced any controversy?
We’ve briefly touched on the Calvin Klein brand’s love for flirty marketing, but these risque adverts have caused some controversy too. Those who believe any publicity is good publicity will love the CK adverts that blur the line between sexual and dirty, these make people talk every time.
One of the more notorious adverts was in 1980 and it involved young actress Brooke Shields. Shields was 15 at the time and the tagline of the denim advert was “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” Obviously, this is too risque for a minor, but Shields had also just starred in a film as a young prostitute – this only added to the scandal!
Another key scandal to note is the 1992 advert with Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss. This ad saw 17-year old Kate Moss topless next to Mark, a sight that made many uncomfortable since the top model was so young. This is an infamous advert, but in 1993 Kate was seen topless again in a Calvin Klein advert again!
Read: The Insatiable List: “Big Six” 90s Supermodels
What quality are Calvin Klein products?
One thing about Calvin Klein and a brand is that their product will always be high-quality. As they use good materials and have great designers, his brand is always able to deliver premium products. This has left the brand as a popular lifestyle clothing label that always produces products customers can trust.
Here are some key pieces you should consider buying:
Calvin Klein jeans are one of their well-known staple products! If you’re looking for a new pair of denim jeans, you should absolutely consider a CK pair. Not only do they offer a great fit that will last for years, but they will also give a great 90s casual look.
Shop the look (Mens):
Shop the look (Womens:
Another popular Calvin Klein product is the formal suit. Whether you want chinos, suit trousers, shirts, blazers, or even formal coats, Calvin Klein offers a large range of formalwear for men. These are popular options that sit at a mid-level price point!
Read: 90s Men’s Suits: Get to Business with These Throwback Trends (With Iconic Styling Tips)
While they’re not the most popular shoes on the market, Calvin lien offers a large range of footwear that covers all occasions and needs. From chunky platform trainers and combat boots to casual shoes and running trainers, the brand has a variety of high-quality shoes on its website.
Shop the look:
The CK label offers a large range of purses and bags for women. These are often neutral, real leather, and feature the iconic CK or Calvin Klein monogram label. These are very popular and can be bought on department store websites and on websites like Asos too.
Shop the look:
Another popular luxury product from Calvin Klein is wristwatches! If you’re looking for a formal, yet stylish, contemporary watch CK makes some great finds. These range from minimal designs to traditional watches and there’s one for all tastes.
Shop the look:
Read: A Blast From The Past: The 90’s Most Popular Watches
When it comes to Calvin Klein products, we simply can’t miss their popular underwear. Whether you prefer boxers, briefs, sports bras, bralettes, or panties, CK offers a minimalist design for everyone. Their underwear is simple, stylish, and comfortable.
Why is Calvin Klein underwear so popular?
There’s no secret that consumers love labels and showing off what designer products they’re wearing. One of the biggest successes for the Calvin Klein brand is their heavily-branded underwear, and there’s a key reason for this.
When you own pants from Calvin Klein, you’ll want to show the band to let others know you’re in luxury underwear. Though this sounds unsightly, it’s a common trend, with many consumers posting full underwear selfies online!
Is Calvin Klein underwear worth it?
Many wonder if they should invest in Calvins as though they come with a branded logo, they’re still more expensive than other underwear brands. Lots of consumer reviews do suggest that the underwear has a comfortable fit, the fabrics are soft, and the underwear lasts for a while. So investing in these pants is worth the price tag!
My Calvins Campaign
A memorable underwear campaign for the brand was the SS16 “My Calvins” advert campaign. These saw models and celebrities posing in Calvin Klein underwear with different “In My Calvins” slogans on each poster. This was an extremely successful marketing technique that caused fans of the brand to mimic the adverts on social media, promoting the underwear even more.
Alongside their successful ad campaigns, the team at Calvin Klein also uses celebrity endorsements to promote their products. Notable figures that have worked with the brand include various members of the Kardashian family, FKA Twigs, Grace Coddington, Margo Robbie, Kendrick Lamar, and supermodel Kate Moss when she was younger and older.
Does the brand use ethical practices?
Calvin Klein has stated that it aims to reduce the company’s carbon emissions by 71% for 2030, however, the brand only receives an “It’s a start” rating on the Good On You calculator. That being said, the brand is embracing eco-friendly fabrics and they’re starting to limit water and chemical waste too. The brand does use real leather, exotic animal fur, and wool so they’re not at the front of the animal cruelty fight.
Unlike many 90s brands, Calvin Klein has not only survived the test of time but they’re only growing more and more successful. With new collections and products, this brand uses laidback marketing and celebrities to promote its luxury products as aspirational to a younger audience.
What do you think of Calvin Klein? Let us know what other brands you want us to explore!
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