Richard Tyler, designer to a galaxy of Hollywood's million-dollar luminaries, is turning his talents to designing for America's working woman.
The man who has made frock coats and frocks for Julia Roberts, Kathleen Turner, Anjelica Huston, Susan Sarandon, Diana Ross, Oprah, Cher, Madonna and Prince is entering the mainstream.
Who is Richard Tyler? He's a 44-year-old Los Angeles-based Australian designer of luxurious, couture-quality clothes-to-die-for, and he took New York by storm in April when he showed his first major fall collection under his own name.
The fashion press raved, magazine mavens wanted to feature his clothes, and buyers placed orders.
The laid-back West Coast tastemaker had broken into the staid East Coast fashion establishment.
Now, just when he has become a name to watch in his own right, he is going about the business of becoming Anne Klein, taking on the additional responsibility of designing one of the most familiar labels in America.
Last month, he was named designer for the Anne Klein collection, a position held for many years by Louis Dell'Olio, a protege of the designer who died in 1974.
It was a surprise move, inasmuch as the Anne Klein label has been synonymous with understated American sportswear and Mr. Tyler is known for stitching up excitement.
"It's going to be great. I won't, of course, forget about the loyal Anne Klein customer but I think she is going to be very happy," he said in an interview through the buzz of a fall trunk show of his own lavish designs.
"We need a new customer for Anne Klein. I don't mind taking a little share of Calvin Klein's market, or Donna Karan's market or Ralph Lauren's market. It's out there for everybody to take and I definitely want a part of it."
His new business backers are thinking the same way. "Richard Tyler is one of the most exciting designers in the country -- make that internationally," says Andrew Rosen, president of Anne Klein & Co. "If you look at what he's all about, you'll find this guy is a magnificent tailor as well as designer and his aesthetic is very much Anne Klein -- well-made clothes a woman can wear."
Tyler is hard at it on both coasts, working his couture line in Los Angeles and pulling together his first Anne Klein collection in New York.
He will also be the the creative mover for secondary lines -- Anne Klein II and A Line and shoes and jewelry. Taking a hand in the many accessory licenses is somewhere down the road.
The Anne Klein fashion empire annually generates some $220 million in the design divisions, with another $200 million from licensees.
Those are awesome numbers and a long leap for a designer who learned to sew from his mother in suburban Sunshine, Australia.
At 18 he was dressing mod rockers such as Elton John when they toured Australia.
He came through L.A. as Rod Stewart's road show designer and came back to try it on his own, only to find himself nearly down and out in Beverly Hills. In 1987 he was ready to pack it in and return to Australia. That's when he met actress Lisa Trafficante and love turned his life around.
She encouraged and backed his talents and along with her sister, Michele, they formed Tyler Trafficante, an energetic menswear fashion house which attracted the star trade.
The quality in Tyler's own collection is seldom seen or touched by the average woman who flips through department store racks. At Hirschleifer's, a toney store in a pricey retail strip known as "The Miracle Mile" in Long Island, his loyal fans came early to touch and buy.
They're loyal and moneyed -- -- jackets cost from $1,500 to $2,500, pants and skirts $700 to $1,000, blouses $600 to $1,200. Evening dresses run to $3,500 and can soar for custom designs, such as Julia Roberts' never-worn wedding dress for the never-happened marriage to Kiefer Sutherland.
Anyone with the means to wear Tyler clothes buys near art-gallery quality.
The buttons could be jewelry and are carried through perfectly hand-made buttonholes. The linings and interior work is so fine ,, that only the woman who wears these clothes has intimate knowledge of their worth.
"We make everything ourselves. Nothing is contracted. We have 105 employees now and we are lucky to be based on the West Coast because most of our fine workers are Chinese and they have those remarkable skills.
"They are treasures," says the proud designer.
He points to other designers who brush off details.
"Not mentioning any names -- but some very, very well-known, long-established Europeans do things that are quite amazing. A little something with two seams, no lining, no pockets, no details and it's $5,000. Amazing.
"Now, for Anne Klein I have to keep to a price point (on the high end averaging $800 for a jacket, $400 for a blouse, $350 for pants or skirt) but quality is still my major concern.
"We just came back from Europe and found very fine fabrics for spring. They have to be tailored in a certain way -- very difficult," he says. Complex tailoring is his strong suit and he believes it will make a mark.
"This is a designer who simply does not fake a garment," says Ruth Shaw, who has been carrying Richard Tyler at her Cross Keys store for four seasons.
"His tailoring is demanding on the wearer as well as the maker because the fit is critical."
Nevertheless, says Ms. Shaw, she has customers who fit those criteria and will buy several suits.
Such discipline from a La-La Land designer? He smiles.
"Hollywood sort of conjures up Bob Mackie with lots of sequins and such. We don't do that. Our star clients are modern. We
don't do Zsa Zsa for instance, but we do Julia Roberts who was one of our first customers and bought men's jackets long before I started doing women's clothes. She had them altered and wore them with granny dresses and big boots. She has her own great look."
He explains why stars line up at his hip Art Deco showroom and store in Los Angeles to spend thousands on his jackets.
"Nothing is spared. Every lining is silk and is hand set so that when someone puts an arm into the sleeve it feels very luxurious."
He promises to build in some of that feeling for his first collection for Anne Klein.
"I'm certainly not doing Anne Klein thinking of it as a secondary line. I'm putting the same effort into Anne Klein as I am into my own.
"Actually, it now gets more attention."
For all the luxury he brings to his designs Richard Tyler is remarkably down-to-earth, once he takes his clothes off the runway and into the world of real women.
The fall collection which brought him so much praise was a high-style sashay through history -- dandified suits with the richest trims, clerical cassock coats worthy of a tasteful cardinal and court dresses and jackets with Napoleonic bravado.
But a woman of style doesn't have to play out the whole epic, says the designer.
He wants women to look gorgeous on their own terms. That includes Lisa Trafficante, who is now his wife and president of the company.
"Lisa likes to dress a certain way. She plays with clothes and that's what a woman should do. If I criticize something she's wearing she says, 'Richard, you know I look so much better.' And she does.
"A woman knows when she looks in the mirror. No one should dictate."
Ruth Shaw will bring almost exclusively black and white Tylers into her store for fall.
"When you're spending that much money black is really the best color," she says. Her favorite pieces are a white, ruffle-cuffed blouse, a black barathea shawl-collared jacket with trumpet boot pants and a mandarin-collared jacket.
"I bought it exactly the way he showed it because it was right," she says.
The easy-to-like designer is more relaxed about his own creations.
"I shouldn't be telling you this, but I will," he tells a Tyler-label wannabe.
"You shouldn't have to go out and buy a complete outfit just because we as designers create a total look for the runway. There may be other things you need -- such as a new washing machine."
Hollywood has not spoiled Richard Tyler.
What: Richard Tyler trunk show
Where: Ruth Shaw Inc., Village of Cross Keys. A representative of the company will be on hand for special orders and fashion assistance.
When: July 14, 15
Call: (410) 532-7886 for information