April 14 Calvin Klein spoke at the Trustees Theater for the final event of SCADstyle. During his discussion with Fern Mallis, Mr. Klein spoke of his younger days in school, describing the New York public school he attended. “School was intense and great,” said Klein, “a learning opportunity.”
From his early days he already knew he had something to say, but he had to say it with style – and say it by himself. Klein went on to attend Fashion Institute of Technology, where he did exceptionally well.
Klein said he was very independent and rarely asked for advice – “especially from parents.” But when his best friend returned from the military and suggested partnering with Klein to start a food business, he turned to his parents.
They intervened. His mother stated that she never wanted him to go into the family business and—much to Klein’s surprise—even his father, who was not supportive of his artistic career, offered advice. Klein’s father said, “If you don’t see it through, you may be unhappy for the rest of your life.”
Klein then summed up his early career, calling it, “two horrible jobs making horrible clothes.” He quit the first job after six months and moved into the second, where he began working nights and weekends on his own line of clothes. He was fired one week before he planned to resign but this misfortune came with a stroke of luck.
Klein rolled a rack of his clothes thirty blocks from 5th Avenue to 7th Street – with a broken wheel and copious amounts of stress – to Bonwit Teller, a New York clothing store interested in purchasing his designs.
And so he began building his empire. Klein said the fashion industry, “is a business of relationships,” a statement that rings true when he drops the names of his friends in the industry – fashion giants like Donna Karen and Ralph Lauren.
“Be nice—it gets you a whole lot further,” Klein said. “People will do things for you because they like you,” he continued, “they want you to succeed.” His relationships came naturally, as did his vision.
“You have to have a real sense of connecting with people and recognizing talent,” said Klein. “I would never have run anything if I didn’t love it.” Mr. Klein’s name was on the front lines of fashion and he was on the front lines of his own name: “I was always involved, everything we ever did, there was a strategy behind it.” One day that strategy became sexuality and it soon this new, formerly taboo element, took over his campaigns.
Mr. Klein sold his company in 2002 and does not comment on it’s current. Except a few comments about the new ad campaigns, when he stated that the campaign with Kendall Jenner is, “not the kind of thing I would have done.”
Since then, Mr. Klein travels to schools and universities giving lectures about his design philosophy and success.
“You have to exude confidence,” said Mr. Klein as parting advice, “I would get nervous…but yet you have to exude confidence. And yet you have to believe in what your body is telling you.”