Anne Klein splits with hip designer, stays traditional


Anne Klein & Co. and its designer, Richard Tyler, said Monday that they were ending their relationship after only 19 months.

Mr. Tyler signed on with Anne Klein to design clothes that were less expensive than the signature $2,000 jackets that he produced for his own line in California. Anne Klein had been tired of seeing Calvin Klein and Donna Karan get all the publicity, and had wanted a hipper image.

Now, Anne Klein appears to be running back to the cover of the cost-conscious practical sportswear image that the designer whose name is on the door made famous before her death in 1974.

Any doubts that Anne Klein's initial intent was to make its collection a cutting-edge attention grabber would have been erased when a $2 million advertising campaign photographed in a disco-decadent style by Stephen Meisel began last March.

But the company seemed to have suddenly lost the nerve it displayed in hiring Mr. Tyler, promoting him heavily and daring the retailers to take offense. And the retailers took the dare, registering their concern about losing the traditional Anne Klein customer.

Last spring, Mr. Tyler seemed to have pushed the collection beyond whatever invisible line had been established by Anne Klein's president, Andrew Rosen, and the owners, Frank Mori and Tomio Taki.

And as unceremoniously as when Louis Dell'Olio was forced from the house in May 1993, after Mr. Tyler had already been chosen, Anne Klein has now ended its agreement with Mr. Tyler. Retailers said yesterday that a replacement had already been chosen -- Patrick Robinson, a young designer who for five years has been interpreting Giorgio Armani's collections for Le Collezione, the lower-price white label to Armani's black upper-end line.

"They do have definite ideas, but they did let Richard develop on his own in terms of his silhouette," said Lisa Trafficante, the president of Tyler/Trafficante, the company she and Mr. Tyler, her husband, started in 1987. "I think they felt when Richard talked about Anne Klein, it was exactly what they wanted to hear, but when they talked about it we were talking past each other, really thinking we were talking about the same thing. We realized we're not understanding each other."

While it appears that it was Anne Klein's decision to terminate Mr. Tyler's contract, Mr. Tyler seems to have walked away the victor.

For two consecutive years, Mr. Tyler has won an award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America for his signature line. The first was for new talent; on Jan. 30 he will accept another, for best designer.

His work for Anne Klein, although probably a factor, was not included in the citation. And since becoming a bicoastal talent, he has collected reams of publicity, with Anne Klein promoting him as the designer that doubled sales at the house, despite retail reports that the line wasn't finding its customer.

The new issue of People magazine, perhaps the leading indicator of what in fashion has reached the masses, this week declared him one of 1994's "fresh faces."

Clearly, what was fresh was his higher profile, through the publicity machine of a $400 million Seventh Avenue business.

"Richard Tyler has gotten more out of Anne Klein than Anne Klein got out of him," said Alan Millstein, editor and publisher of Fashion Network Report, an industry newsletter. "He's got a trophy case of awards and a fat and happy clip book."

Anne Klein represents a sizable amount of business for many stores, and a number of retailers that carry Anne Klein also have Mr. Tyler's own collection. Few seemed surprised by the decision.

"Business as usual," said Kal Ruttenstein, the fashion director of Bloomingdale's. "It's Anne Klein we believe in. They're a solid company. We have an excellent relationship with them, and we intend to go forward with them. . . . If they were going to wear Richard Tyler, they'd go off to buy Richard Tyler."

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