Calvin Klein needs no introduction but I’m not sure else how to start this so here’s the deal. Calvin Klein, now 70, launched his fashion career in New York City in 1968. He became a household name in no time and became even more well-known in the 1980s and 90s for his provocative advertisements featuring mostly naked, ridiculously attractive people, most often shot in black and white photography. It was hot.
On his visit to Indianapolis last summer, Klein talked about his career from starting out as a young coat maker from The Bronx and branding tips to selling his multi-million dollar business and what he spends his time doing today. Klein is passionate about supporting the charter schools in Harlem. “If there’s anything we can do for people who are less fortunate it’s to get them to believe and not be afraid of education,” he said.
Read on for more thoughts from the man behind the CK empire.
1. Say something that’s different.
I’m from the school of thought that there’s very little under the sun that hasn’t been done before. Our job is to figure out how to do it differently. It needs to be fresh. It needs to be new. “If the product is a month old, you’re offering nothing,” said Klein.
“I believe if you do something special, in any business, people will take note.”
2. Give them something they need but they don’t know it yet.
“I was always thinking about the American woman and then the American man.”
Much of Klein’s success was based on figuring out what consumers wanted before they did. This applies to audiences beyond the fashion industry — clients, partners, readers, service providers — the list goes on. If you can anticipate what those around you will want and/or need in the near future, you can achieve great success by filling the void. As the great Diana Vreeland once said, “Give ‘em what they never knew they wanted.”
3. Learn how to build a brand.
“Let people know there is a person behind the brand.”
Clearly, a self-titled fashion line is taking this quite literally but whether you’re a blogger, reporter, plumber, or Fortune 500 company, people like to know that there’s a real person on the other end of the line. They want to be assured that humanity is still alive and well and good. Show them that.
“I would try to think about the product and what I want it to communicate to the world so then the imaging would reflect what the product was,” he said. Although Klein noted that not everyone around the world feels the same way. ”I always thought about modern women in America and we figured it must be people all over the world that want the same thing but as we entered different cultures, we’d have to make adjustments and meet their needs — but essentially they were the same thing,” he said.
4. Speak your mind, say it loud, and say it often.
“I truly believed in advertising and marketing — it was the only way I could get my message across. When Vogue did a spread they were in charge. When I paid for an advert in newspaper or magazine, I chose what I wanted to say. I chose the photographers — I rarely used an outside agency — I created my own agency.”
Klein was also revolutionary with advertising in other ways. “When people took a single or double page ad, I took 27 pages.” He created a consistent message that literally could not be missed.
5. Delegate. Ask for help.
Even a man like Calvin Klein couldn’t sustain the 1990s global fashion powerhouse on his own. “I was only able to do this by holding a team. I needed people to help me communicate to the world what we were doing,” he said.
6. Find your edge.
Calvin Klein, as a man and a brand, is well-known for pushing the envelope when it came to grabbing your attention with provocative ads and marketing campaigns, which he justified simply by saying, “I believed that jeans could be many different things.”
7. Trust your instincts.
Klein took his vision for his line of scents just as seriously as he did the clothing. He took a look at what was currently being offered in the market and then followed his instincts from there.
“I’d see pictures of women walking through fields and green and that just didn’t make sense to me,” he said of other perfume ads at the time.
“I believe people wear scents to be with someone. I was obsessed – I was in love with this beautiful model I had seen. Sure enough I found this model, Kate Moss, and sales shot up like crazy. We had all these men that were obsessed with her. Marketing means a lot.”
8. Know when to pull back.
CK One was supposed to have a cool, downtown look with piercings and tattoos. Klein took things a step further, bringing the “heroin-chic” look to light.
People all over the world knew what we were doing and this was before the Internet,” he said. “I took it too far, everyone looked like they were strung out of drugs and then President Clinton decided to start talking about family values…it was a mess.” The campaign started in the UK and after launching in a few other cities, it was perfected by the time it reached Paris. “We made mistakes we learned from them.”
9. Have confidence — no, exude it.
“My parents told me growing up you can be anything you want. Then I learned to convince people what I was — you have to be confident,” he said, adding, “I had a lot of insecurities (about the business) but we didn’t let people see — we exuded confidence and then people followed.”
10. Find your passion.
“Real success is feeling good about yourself not what you’re doing. I’ve made a lot of money, so I know — you have to find your passion.”
You heard the rich man. Get out there and find it!