Picks and Pans Review: Obsession: the Lives and Times of Calvin Klein

UPDATED 05/23/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/23/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Steven Gaines and Sharon Churcher

It's easy to see why Calvin Klein reportedly tried to kill this book (it was abruptly dropped by its original publisher). Vividly told and packed with intimate revelations, Obsession dynamites the designer's refined image, exposing a life full of drugs and bisexual escapades.

The fashion giant and his closest friends refused to cooperate, but authors Gaines and Churcher did their best to let nothing come between them and their Calvin. Interviews with neighbors, classmates and business associates help flesh out their complex subject. Raised in a lower-middle-class family in The Bronx, Klein was an awkward teenager who preferred sketching ball gowns to batting baseballs. The authors follow him closely through his days as a dashing young designer who prowled gay nightclubs in New York City up to his comfortable second marriage in 1986 to his former assistant Kelly Rector, 14 years his junior. (His first marriage, which ended in divorce after 10 years, produced his only child, Marci, now 27.)

The book is particularly unflinching when it deal with Klein's personal life. The authors report that Klein had silicone injections to plump up pitted acne scars; that he was heartbroken when designer Perry Ellis, who died of AIDS in 1986, didn't return his affections; that he made a drug-crazed call to Palm Beach, Fla., neighbor Donald Trump claiming that people with submachine guns were surrounding the house he had rented there.

And yet for all its frankness in depicting Klein's bisexuality, vanity and ding use, Obsession is best when providing a behind-the-scenes look at the fashion world, where power plays, questionable deals and his own manic perfectionism helped Klein revolutionize the clothing industry.

Ultimately, Klein comes across as a singularly gifted man given to indulging his enormous appetite for more. Surely such a graphic biography will trouble the ever-image-conscious designer, now 51, but readers are likely to find that the authors have documented a uniquely American success story. (Birch Lane Press, $22.50)

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