In 1968, Klein founded Calvin Klein Limited, a coat shop in the York Hotel
in New York City, with $10,000. The first Calvin Klein collection was a
line of men's and women's coats featured at the New York City store, Bonwit Teller.
In 1969, Klein appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine. By 1971, sportswear,
classic blazers and lingerie were added to his women's collection.
In 1973, he received his first Coty American Fashion Critics' Award for his
74-piece womenswear collection. By 1977, annual revenues had increased to
$30 million, and Klein had licenses for scarves, shoes, belts, furs, sunglasses,
and sheets. Klein and Schwartz were making $4 million each. After the company
signed licenses for cosmetics, jeans, and menswear, Klein's annual retail volume
was estimated at $100 million. In 1978, Klein claimed sales of 200,000 pairs of
his famous jeans the first week they were on the market. By 1981, Fortune magazine
figured Klein's annual income at $8.5 million a year. In the mid-1970s,
he had created a designer-jeans craze by putting his name on the back pocket.
In the late 1970s, the company also made attempts to set up its own fragrance
and cosmetics business, but soon withdrew from the market with big financial
losses. In the 1980s, as the designer-jeans frenzy reached its all-time high,
Calvin Klein introduced a highly successful line of boxer shorts for women and a
men’s underwear collection which would later gross $70 million in a single year.
Calvin Klein’s underwear business, promoted later in the 1990s with giant billboards
showing images of pop singer "Marky Mark" Mark Wahlberg, was so successful that
his underpants became generally known as "Calvins".
The stunning growth continued through the early eighties. The licensing program,
which brought in $24,000 when it was initiated in 1974, had royalty income of
$7.3 million ten years later. That year, worldwide retail sales were estimated
at more than $600 million. Klein's clothes were sold through 12,000 stores in
the United States and were available in six other countries. His annual income
passed $12 million. Financial problems, increased pressure from all sides,
isagreements with the licensee of the menswear line and its disappointing sales as
well as an enormous employee turnover both within Calvin Klein and its licensing
partners led to the first rumors that Calvin Klein Industries, as the company
had been known by then, was up for sale. And indeed, in late 1987,
it was said that the sale of the company to Triangle Industries, a container manufacturer,
had only failed because of the crashing stock market.
Although the company almost faced bankruptcy in 1992, Calvin Klein managed to regain and
increase the profitability of his empire throughout the later 90s, mainly through the success
of its highly popular underwear and fragrance lines, as well as the ck sportswear line.
Klein was named "America's Best Designer" for his minimalist all-American designs in 1993,
and it came as a surprise in 1999 when it was announced that CKI was again up for sale.
Planning to expand its business, the company had been approached by two luxury goods companies,
LVMH and Pinault Printemps Redoute, to join Calvin Klein, but nothing resulted.
Other potentials like Tommy Hilfiger Corp. and Italy's Holding di Partecipazioni proved to
be similar disappointments because of CKI's steep price tag of supposedly $1 billion.
After seven months and no potential buyer, Klein announced that his empire was not
on the market any more. The company would never manage to go public, which had
supposedly been Klein's plan once. In June 2008, Calvin Klein started to sponsor
America's Next Top Male Model, allowing the winner to embark on a 100,000 dollar
contract as well as a runway show, as a bonus, to launch their career.
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