The House of Klein: Fashion, Controversy, and a Business Obsession
The House of Klein tells the inside story of the rise of a fashion legend and the business empire he built from the ground up. Calvin Klein is perhaps the world’s best-known fashion designer and creator of one of the most recognizable brands in the global marketplace. At the forefront of fashion for more than thirty years, Klein has been no stranger to controversy–yet his continued success and profits always seem to answer his critics for him.
In The House of Klein, fashion writer and industry insider Lisa Marsh offers a warts-and-all exposť of the kid from the Bronx who rose from copy boy at Women’s Wear Daily to the head of a $3 billion corporation built on the power of sex. First grabbing attention in the 1970s, Klein revolutionized the industry by offering designer jeans at affordable prices. But it was his advertisements, more than his designs, which would land him on the front page.
In the early 1980s, ads featuring teenage beauty Brooke Shields making provocative statements including "Do you know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing." brought charges of sexual exploitation of a child, but the resulting maelstrom only garnered more attention for the thriving brand. Klein followed by introducing his Obsession fragrance in 1985 which was accompanied by an ad campaign that featured the naked arms, legs, and torsos of several unidentifiable models.
In the 1990s, Klein’s use of the famously thin "it girl" Kate Moss, prompted more criticism. Her gaunt, boyish features and vacant stare hinted at child pornography, sexual ambiguity, anorexia, and even heroin use, but again Klein managed to leverage the brouhaha to further boost his brand recognition.
Attacked from all sides–by conservative pro-family groups and feminist organizations, among many others–Klein continued to question American taste and morality. But his success eventually led to scrutiny of his personal life, and rumors sprung up about his sexuality, as well as alcoholism and his petty personal vendettas. Marsh uncovers the truth and the fiction behind these claims, revealing Klein as a more complicated figure than both his detractors and supporters would have us believe.
Much like the affecting yet disturbing images associated with his brand, Klein is a contradictory figure capable of both warm charm and icy wrath. As a businessman, he is either a calculated genius or a lucky bumbler whose company succeeds despite his meddling. Above all, he is an entrepreneur who knows that sex sells. The House of Klein presents a revealing portrait of the man behind the brand–an inscrutable giant of the fashion industry whose influence continues to shape the American cultural landscape.
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