Asked Sunday night about Gabriella Forte's impending defection to Calvin Klein in what sources describe as a "mega-deal," Armani exploded.
"He recruits my people, my collections. Next he will be calling me up to head his design studio!" snapped the designer.
Armani did not know that Forte, an executive vice president and the woman who was virtually indispensable to his company for many years, was definitely joining Calvin Klein as president and chief operating officer until he was asked about it by a WWD reporter.
Armani said he had met with Forte last Thursday, at which time she told him she had already signed a contract with Calvin Klein. But the designer said Forte had threatened to leave numerous times before, and he didn't believe her decision was final.
"I felt as if I were living this moment for the hundredth time," Armani said.
"I asked her to rethink things, particularly in view of the delicate moment we are experiencing," Armani added, referring to problems with Simint SpA, which operates the A/X Armani Exchange business, and GFT SpA.
Forte played a key role in most major decisions at Armani involving retailing, marketing and the press. She was also in charge of the company's U.S. operations. "I never expected in a moment such as this -- with things more tense than usual -- that she would have made this decision. She hasn't acted very well with respect to Giorgio Armani," the designer said.
Armani acknowledged that Forte has done a tremendous amount for the company, noting that it and Forte have grown significantly over the last 10 years.
"Giorgio Armani has given extensive opportunities to Gabriella Forte. We're not talking about opening a store or two; we're talking about entire chains of boutiques," he said. "We gave Gabriella Forte responsibility, budgets and freedom to operate."
However, he also noted that when there were mistakes, "we never threw them back in her face -- we never said, 'We don't need you anymore."'
Armani insisted the company is structured to overcome Forte's departure, although he acknowledged that he will look for someone to take over some of her duties in the U.S.He said that due to the company's size, the position might be reassigned to two or three people.
"We have done good things, and that is to the credit of Gabriella Forte, but also that of Giorgio Armani and his collaborators, and it is important to say so," he said.
By Monday afternoon, Armani had cooled down somewhat and his company issued the following statement: "While thanking Mrs. Forte for her 15 years of collaboration, we would like to take this occasion to wish her every success in her new position."
The statement also said, "In mutual agreement, this change will take place immediately."
Forte, in a telephone interview Monday from her home in Milan, said, "This new job is very exciting for me. After 15 years, I think that anybody has the right to change. I had the opportunity to work with the greatest teacher of my life. He gave me everything, and I learned so many things working side by side with the man who is the greatest designer of the epoch. But now, after 15 years, I find that the Calvin Klein organization is an extremely dynamic one and I'm looking forward to my new life. I am very happy to return to the United States, where my family is, although now I have the problem of my husband being in Milan. But we'll work that out."
Forte's husband is Edward Glanz, senior vice president at GFT SpA for merchandising and production of the Armani men's and women's diffusion line, Giorgio Armani Le Collezione. He has been there since 1979.
Forte said she will start at Calvin Klein in September. She noted she plans to take a vacation and work on some personal matters before beginning her new job.
She will oversee manufacturing, marketing, distribution, retailing, licensing, finance, worldwide business development and new ventures. Forte will report to Klein and chairman Barry Schwartz.
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