Calvin Klein Collection

In 1968, Barry Schwartz loaned a childhood friend from the Bronx $10,000 to design a coat collection. Bonwit Teller ordered $50,000 of merchandise and placed the samples in its Fifth Avenue windows. The house of Calvin Klein was born.

It wasn't until 1979, however, that Klein did something that would revolutionize the denim market and make his brand one of the world's most recognizable: He commissioned a series of provocative, innuendo-dripping television commercials starring a 15-year-old Brooke Shields. "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins" was one of the most famous fashion slogans ever coined. It was hardly a coincidence that Klein was a fixture at Studio 54 and other high-profile nightlife venues.

The formula of celebrity, sex, and success would be repeated over and over during the next two decades. Kate Moss became a huge star posing nude for Calvin Klein Obsession perfume; Mark Wahlberg moved beyond boy rapper-dom posing (half-nude) for Calvin Klein underwear. In 1995, the house sparked a national debate when it aired CK One fragrance commercials featuring scantily dressed teenagers in suggestive attitudes; even President Clinton chimed in on the scandal. Meanwhile, Klein and co. were at the top of their game, and the awards—five from the CFDA, three from Coty—rolled in. At his best, the designer was able to pull off the neat trick of infusing minimalism with sensuality.

While the bulk of Calvin Klein's $3.5 billion in sales today comes from fragrance, underwear, and denim, the ready-to-wear line sets the tone. Even though Klein and Schwartz bowed out in 2002, selling out to Phillips-Van Heusen for $700 million, the company still hews close to its minimalist aesthetic under the guidance of Francisco Costa, Klein's successor. And when they're on the hunt for a slim coat, riding pants, or chic little dress done with sophisticatedly simple lines and monochromatic hues, women still look for the Calvin Klein label.



Francisco Costa

Francisco Costa

Francisco Costa had been working for Calvin Klein for only a year when he was asked to assume one of the most powerful positions in American fashion: the hand-picked heir apparent to Mr. Klein himself, head designer of womenswear. It was 2003, and Costa was a relative unknown.

Costa was born in Guarani, Brazil, and moved to New York in the early nineties to study English at Hunter College by day and take classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology by night. After graduating from FIT, he logged time on Seventh Avenue, spending five years rising up through the ranks at Oscar de la Renta. In 1998, Tom Ford recruited him to design eveningwear for Gucci, but Costa soon found himself contributing across the board, working alongside Ford on such groundbreaking collections as the Spring 1999 Cher collection.

Following in the footsteps of an icon is never easy, but Costa has earned his share of praise from retailers and the press for forging his own identity within the clean and spare Calvin Klein aesthetic. Adding subtle embellishments like geometric prints, circle motifs, and flashes of patent leather, Costa has attempted to freshen the house's minimalist sensibility without abandoning it. His precision tailoring and attention to the structure of a garment have given his more recent collections an austere, architectural quality.

In both 2006 and 2008, Costa nabbed the CFDA's highly coveted Womenswear Designer of the Year Award, further proving that he is emerging from the shadow of his predecessor.


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