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Robert Velkey 2016.09.22.

In our weekly series, we write about celebrities – artists, actors, musicians, sport stars and scientists – who have some Hungarian origin, yet only few would consider them as “par excellence Hungarians”. In many cases even the persons concerned know/knew only very little about their Hungarian roots, while others are/were proud of their “Magyar” background despite lacking the ability to speak the language of their parents or grandparents. Our thirtieth target is: 

Calvin Richard Klein, American fashion designer from Jewish-Hungarian immigrants who launched the company that would later become Calvin Klein Inc.

He studied fashion in New York City and apprenticed for a suit manufacturer. In 1968, he opened his own company. He was initially recognized for suits and coats, but his sportswear line became popular as well. He received three Coty Awards for womenswear. His business now includes clothing, cosmetics, fragrances and home collections.

LOS ANGELES - 1979: Fashion designer Calvin Klein poses for a portrait backstage before a fashion show for People Magazine in 1979 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joan Adlen/Getty Images)

Calvin Klein was born on November 19, 1942 in Bronx, New York. the son of Flore (née Stern) and Leo Klein. His father was an immigrant from Hungary while his mother was the daughter of an immigrant from Austria and an American dentist. “Calvin’s stooped, subdued, Hungarian-born father, Leo Klein, was less comfortable with his son’s interest in women’s clothing than his wife, but Leo didn’t have much to say about it – or about anything else in the household…A grocer by trade, he had come to this country at age eleven with his older brother Ernest, and together the two had worked six and seven days a week building up a series of superettes, writes the biography titled The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein.

Calvin Klein started to work with design in his early life as he attended the High School of Art and Design and matriculated at, but never graduated from, New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, receiving an honorary Doctorate in 2003. He did his apprenticeship in 1962 at an oldline cloak-and-suit manufacturer, Dan Millstein, and spent five years designing at other New York City shops. In 1968, he launched his first company with a childhood friend, Barry K. Schwartz, that would later became Calvin Klein Inc. In addition to clothing, he also has given his name to a range of perfumes, watches, and jewelry.


Calvin’s establishment grew rapidly, for the three sequential years (from the 1973 till the 1975); he was the holder of the Coty nomination. In 1974, Klein designed the tight-fitting signature jeans that would go on to gross $200,000 in their first week of sales. In that same year he also became the first designer to receive outstanding design in men’s and women’s wear from the CFDA award show. In the 1978, he became the first designer who launched “fashion jeans” showing them on the catwalks and selling them. Calvin Klein brand on the back pocket of luxury jeans has become one of the initial signs of what was later called ”logomania”. “I’m in a business where no one cares about anything except how well your last collection sold” Calvin says.

In 1983, he was placed on the International Best Dressed List. Also in 1981, 1983 and 1993, he received an award from Councils of Fashion Designs of America. In 2003, Calvin vended his firm for $430 million to one American cooperative association, named Phillips-Van Heusen, which is engaged in production of shirts. Today, his firm is evaluated at $34.7 billion, being it the richest firm in the globe.


Previously on Hungarian Roots:

Tim Howard, goalkeeper for English club Everton and US national team

Rachel Weisz, English film and theatre actress and former fashion model

Alanis Morissette, Canadian alternative rock singer-songwriter and actress

Gene Simmons, musician, songwriter, guitarist and co-lead singer of rock band KISS

Béla Lugosi, Hungarian-American actor, famous for portraying Count Dracula in 1931

Kesha, US singer, songwriter and rapper

Louis C. K., world-famous US comedian

Adrien Brody, Oscar-winning American actor

Joaquin Phoenix, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning US actor

Don Shula, Legendary American football coach

Drew Barrymore, US actress, model and producer

Paul Simon, American songwriter, singer and guitarist

Uri Geller, Israeli illusionist and self-proclaimed “psychic”

Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson, American actress

Hungarian Roots: Andy Vajna, Hungarian-American Film Producer Of The “Terminator” Series

Joe Eszterhas, Top Hollywood Screenwriter

Edward Teller, “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb”

Harry Houdini, Hungarian-Americal magician, illusionist, escapologist and stunt performer

Peter Falk, world-famous American actor known as lieutenant Culumbo

William Fox, the man who forgot to sleep and founded 20th Century Fox

Tommy Ramone, drummer of cultic punk rock band “The Ramones’

George Pataki, former three-term governor of New York

Michael “Flea” Balzary, founding member and bassist of rock band Red Hot Chilli Peppers

The greatest war photographer in the world, Robert Capa

Victor Vasarely, Hungarian-French painter known as the grandfather of the “op-art” movement

Monica Seles, former world-class tennis player

Mark Knopfler, frontman of rock band dire straits

Nimród E. Antal, film director, screenwriter and actor from LA

Joseph Pulitzer, the father of the world famous award

Nicholas Sarkozy France 23rd President from 2007-2012