NEW YORK — As a child in Ohio, Ken Wyse had high hopes of one day indulging his love of the arts by becoming a dancer, concert pianist or “thespian.” But he learned early on that he was more suited to be an international businessman than an entertainer.
Even so, he never lost his love of the arts — and on Monday morning, Wyse, the president of global licensing for PVH Corp., was honored with Lincoln Center’s 13th annual Business Leadership Award for his work on behalf of the organization.
Wyse said that after moving to New York in 1972, he worked at Schrafft’s, the family restaurant chain, during the day but danced the night away at Studio 54 and other clubs, soon racking up $25,000 in credit card debt.
To pay down the debt, he took a job as a telemarketer for the Metropolitan Opera for $4 an hour, a job he kept even after the credit card bill was paid off and one that led to a lifetime of appreciation for the New York arts community.
The breakfast Monday, held at The Times Center, drew a large crowd of arts patrons and fashion industry types including Carolina Herrera, Ronny Wurtzburger of Peerless, Mike Setola of Greg Norman, Paul Rosengard of Anatwine, and some 40 PVH employees, including chairman and chief executive officer Emanuel Chirico.
In honoring Wyse at the event, Chirico admitted that as a kid from the Bronx who had attended Fordham University, he wasn’t much of an arts lover — until he met Wyse.
“He invited my wife and me to see the opera ‘Carmen,’” Chirico said, dragging him “scratching and clawing at the walls.” But once it was over, Chirico developed his own appreciation of the arts, a love that continues to this day.
Later, the ceo talked a little business, telling WWD that the arrival of Raf Simons as creative director of Calvin Klein has created “a cultural change” at PVH and “changed the dynamic of Calvin Klein. But it’s really working well,” he said, pointing to the “enthusiasm” of retailers toward Simons’ inaugural collection. “Now we’re looking forward to the sell-throughs.”
Chirico and the rest of the crowd at the breakfast were treated to a performance by actress and singer Liz Callaway and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway who created a song about Wyse on-the-spot after asking the audience for words to describe him. Her song, which included catchphrases such as punctual, neat and kills with kindness, brought the house down.
The breakfast raised a record $335,000 for the business council.