NEW YORK — When fall shipments of Anne Klein New York sportswear began arriving in stores last month, there were no signs announcing a big change in artistic direction, nor the departure of the latest designer personality behind the label, nor even its change of ownership. If anything, customers who have been paying close attention to the recent history of the iconic American brand might have noticed an improvement in the quality of its fabrics and construction.
The differences in Anne Klein since it was acquired by Jones Apparel Group in a bankruptcy court auction as part of the Kasper A.S.L. package may have been subtle to the outside world. But to an industry that had become accustomed to watching the brand as a runway soap opera on par with the recent bruhahas of the Gucci Group, the changeover has been more dramatic — Jones has taken a far different strategy in promoting the line than its previous owners, pulling Anne Klein away from the runways of fashion week altogether, rather than introducing another future star to take the bow.
It might not be such a great approach from the standpoint of generating buzz, but it falls more closely in line with the Jones corporate culture, where the focus is on the product and customer rather than the cult of the designer. Anne Klein competes in the bridge world of Dana Buchman, Ellen Tracy and Eileen Fisher, after all. There is no Mr. Nine West nor a real Mrs. Jones behind the Jones New York label, Jones executives point out in reference to the company’s other holdings, and Anne Klein’s history with named designers hasn’t exactly been a home run in recent seasons.
“Rather than spending half a million dollars on a fashion show, taking these collections out to the stores and working with the customers is much more important to us,” said Mark Mendelson, group president, who oversees the Jones New York Collection, Nine West Apparel and Anne Klein sportswear businesses in bridge and better. “So many times, the fashion show ends up driving the product, as opposed to the consumer.”
At a preview last week of the Anne Klein New York sportswear collection, which is the top of the many-tiered Anne Klein pyramid, Jones offered a look into its vision for the brand, which revolves around making sophisticated, accessible clothes for the working woman. That’s the same ambition with which the late Anne Klein herself founded the business in the late Sixties, catering to women who were attaining more senior jobs and didn’t want to dress like men. Following the roster of designers who have fronted the brand over the years since Klein’s death in 1974, each bringing their own egos and ideas to the equation — Donna Karan, Louis Dell’Olio, Richard Tyler, Patrick Robinson, Ken Kaufman and Isaac Franco, Charles Nolan and, most recently, Michael Smaldone for the spring 2004 season — Jones briefly toyed with continuing that tradition by hiring Nineties nameplate Christian Francis Roth, but made the decision to work with a team of designers recruited from the Jones staff.
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