Calvin Klein has hired Gabriella Forte, one of Italy's most powerful fashion executives, to be president and chief operating officer of Calvin Klein Inc.
Ms. Forte, who was executive vice president of Giorgio Armani and head of its U.S. operations, is so closely linked to Mr. Armani that she often spoke for him in the first person. As Mr. Armani's right hand, Ms. Forte personified the tough and articulate buffer needed by creative personalities whose names are on labels.
"I think the position that was offered me was very exciting," said Ms. Forte, calling from Milan.
"I really wanted to return to the United States because my family is presently there, and Calvin made it exciting to me."
Ms. Forte's American husband, Ed Glantz, is the New York-based senior vice president of merchandising and production for Giorgio Armani Fashion Corp., a subsidiary of GFT U.S.A. Corp.
At Armani, Ms. Forte coddled and bullied the press, directed the marketing and was the last word when it came to key retail decisions. For 15 years, through many title changes, she was a fierce, and feared, defender of the growing, rarefied world of Giorgio Armani.
It is a world that Mr. Klein makes no secret that he would like to emulate.
"At Giorgio Armani, Ms. Forte was responsible for the opening and development of the company's stores worldwide, and the talents she demonstrated in that capacity will be especially important to us now, as we expand internationally and in the U.S.," Mr. Klein said in a press release.
Barry Schwartz, Mr. Klein's childhood friend and partner from the birth of his business, will continue as chairman.
In a phone interview, Mr. Klein said of Ms. Forte, "As president and CEO, she's going to be involved in the marketing, the manufacturing, the distribution, the retailing, the licensing operation . . . truly every aspect of my business. And because I'm so interested in global expansion through Asia and Europe, she brings a particular expertise to our company that no one can match. So I consider this quite a coup."
It is a telling hire by Mr. Klein, who has long been criticized, in the menswear arena particularly, for Armani pretentions. Now he not only has hired Noona Smith-Peterson, Mr. Armani's eight-year
head of public relations; Stephen Fairchild, once in the Armani menswear design room; and Anthony Landerwehle, once in Armani's women's design room; but now Ms. Forte, who is considered by Americans to be, if not the eyes and ears of Mr. Armani, the voice.
"We were going after the best possible person in the industry to become the president, as we've done repeatedly over the years for every aspect of our business," Mr. Klein said. He said an executive search firm confirmed his belief that Ms. Forte was the best candidate for the job.
Calvin Klein boutiques have recently been opened in Zurich and St. Moritz and will soon open in Berlin, and boutiques are planned for Los Angeles and New York.
Ron Galotti, the publisher of Vogue magazine, said: "Gabriella is quintessentially in charge of image control out of Armani, and involved in every aspect of the business, and Calvin is extremely fortunate to get her.
"She's a terrific executive. She knows exactly what's going on in the business every step in the way, in retail and magazines."