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Lesson #4: Broaden Your Appeal
Klein has become somewhat of an icon in the gay community and rumors of his own sexuality plagued him throughout his career. With his line of men’s underwear coming to be considered a staple of the ‘gay uniform’, Klein was often criticized for conscientiously targeting this group above others. The vandalism of numerous New York City bus stops and the subsequent theft of their large-scale posters of near-naked male models in Klein’s men’s underwear line were in fact considered acts by this group. Despite his popularity within the gay community, Klein denies any efforts to specifically target them, believing that to be bad business sense. “You can’t advertise for one group,” says Klein. “Otherwise, you end up having a very small business!”
Instead, Klein says that the key to his success was his attempt to attract customers from all segments of society. “There’s an awareness of fashion in this country, and it’s not limited to gay people,” he says. “If business were geared toward selling just to gay people, we wouldn’t have much of a business and neither would anyone else, because that group is not big enough to support it.” Thus, Klein decided to focus on sports and casual clothing, “clothes that everyone wears”.
Believing that American men were becoming increasingly fashion conscious, Klein knew that he could have a large market outside the gay community. “There has been a change in men’s attitudes toward their clothes,” said Klein. “In the past, the wife bought all the husband’s clothes, and that happens a lot less today. American men are more aware of fashion; they’re not afraid of it and they like clothes better and are willing to spend more time and money choosing them.”
It was this change in social attitudes towards fashion that Klein keenly observed and was able to take advantage of. “Fashion is about selling clothes,” says Klein. “I’m in a business where no one cares about anything except how well your last collection sold.” This is why his advertising campaigns also targeted everyone from pubescent young girls to stylish urbanite men.
The ultimate attempt to broaden his appeal came with the launch of his fragrance line cKone, the first unisex perfume ever created. By allowing anyone to wear the same scent, Klein was in essence breaking down all the barriers between his customers. Klein understood that if his business was going to sustain a significant market and have any kind of staying power, he had to create as broad an appeal as possible. His incredible success was in large part due to his ability to do just that.
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