There is no more dramatic sign of the changing point of view of American sportswear than Richard Tyler's being named last week to replace Louis Dell'Olio as the designer at Anne Klein & Co.
While both are the same age -- 44 -- Mr. Tyler is a West Coast designer, tanned and with wavy rock-star hair, and has developed a young Hollywood clientele. Mr. Dell'Olio is a child of Seventh Avenue, beginning his career at 24 at Anne Klein, working alongside Donna Karan until she left to start her own house.
Frank Mori, the president of Takihyo Ltd., which owns Anne Klein and half of the Donna Karan Co., and Tomio Taki, the chairman, went to great pains to emphasize that Mr. Dell'Olio's decision to leave was his own and that they would even consider financing him in his own venture if he can get primary investors. But they don't try to hide their enthusiasm for Mr. Tyler either.
"It's a perfect continuity," Mr. Mori said. He ticked off the Anne Klein history on his fingers: "We're in our 25th year. Look at the history of the company: founded in 1968 by Anne, she develops and is the first firm to invent, if you will, American sportswear.
"She unfortunately passes away in 1974. From 1974 to 1985, the team of Donna Karan and Louis Dell'Olio design in their own statement but Anne Klein's tradition. From 1985 to now, we invested when Donna went her way, and Louis Dell'Olio has done it alone. There's strengths to being an idiom, and there's restrictions. Anne Klein means something: workmanship, craftsmanship and a certain kind of a look."
Mr. Tyler, best known for suits so well-finished that they can be worn inside out, said he first admired Anne Klein in Vogue, on an airplane in 1984 when he was on his way to the United States from his native Australia. But, unlike Mrs. Klein's easy basics, his designs are detailed, often trimmed or embroidered, fitted and formed.
He will continue his own Los Angeles-based collection, under the Richard Tyler label. To accommodate his schedule, Anne Klein is opening a studio for cutting patterns in Los Angeles, though the Anne Klein production will be coordinated in New York.
The last Seventh Avenue house to try to reverse the aging process by bringing in a cutting-edge designer was Perry Ellis, which hired Marc Jacobs after Ellis died in 1986. Jacobs has since been dropped.
Mr. Mori denied that Mr. Dell'Olio's quiet style was the reason Mr. Tyler was being hired. "That was not catalyst for this situation," he said. "Anne Klein is not about shock value. If grunge really was where it was at, we'd have had a tough time. That's not where it's at for us. That's not what the Anne Klein consumer believes in or understands."
Mr. Mori said that the annual wholesale volume for the private company, including 16 licensees, is close to $500 million.
Both Anne Klein and Mr. Tyler's own collection are carried by Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. But Bergdorf's fashion director, Ellin Saltzman, did not see a conflict.
"Anne Klein is just a name on a label," she said. "I don't think many
people still know the face behind the label. The name recognition is greater than the designer recognition."
She added: "I hope they keep the style for executive women. That's our bread and butter."
Mr. Dell'Olio said that after a vacation, he would seek financing for his own endeavors. "What I decided to do is create my own label and everything that entails, including licensing agreements," he said.
"I've already had some calls from people. I'm leaving the doors wide open to all kinds of design possibilities. Definitely in fashion-related businesses and also things not related to fashion, because as Anne Klein said many years ago, 'a good designer can design anything.'
"Now I have the opportunity to look at all venues and all avenues, and it's very exciting."