By and  on February 27, 2006

NEW YORK - Designer succession is an issue that just gets stickier and stickier.

A slew of fashion brands have experienced the pitfalls in a name designer stepping aside, to be replaced by either an individual or a team. Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Jil Sander, Givenchy and even St. John are among the brands that have or are wrestling with the issue.

Now add Calvin Klein to the list.

Executives at Calvin Klein International and its parent, Phillips-Van Heusen, insist they are strongly behind the women's Collection, seeing it as potentially a $100 million business and the driving force behind the success of all those other products bearing the Calvin Klein label that generate global sales at retail of $4 billion annually.

Yet there are so many internecine battles, mixed signals and hiccups that questions continue to rage over whether the more mass-oriented PVH can run a high-end Collection business and whether the women's Collection designer, Francisco Costa, is the man they're banking on.

Costa, meanwhile, lately seems to be biting the hand that feeds him, as have so many other designers in the past who have gone public with complaints about their corporate overseers - from Alexander McQueen at Givenchy to Marc Jacobs at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and Jil Sander at her then-parent, Prada Group. The tactic has met with mixed success.

Nevertheless, in an interview Sunday with Cathy Horyn in The New York Times' T magazine, Costa let rip on his frustration with CKI and PVH, and his dissatisfaction over how he's been treated, even by Calvin Klein himself.

All this as Costa is in the middle of renegotiating his contract - for which he's enlisted his friend and former Calvin Klein chairman, Barry Schwartz. Schwartz also is the boyhood friend and former business partner of Klein, yet a chilly frost has formed between the two men since they sold out to PVH.

Costa's situation brings to light a bevy of issues that may be impeding the success of Collection and have caused successions at other design houses to derail. They include a team approach - Costa oversees only the women's Collection, with two other design directors handling men's and accessories; CKI downplays Costa's star potential in an attempt to maintain Calvin Klein the man as the image of the brand; questions remain over Costa's ability to produce a commercially viable product, and then there is the relevance of the high-end Collection at a company known more for underwear, jeans and fragrances.

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