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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.

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