Forte Said Back In Fashing As President Of Dolce & Gabbana

<CS:BOLD>NEW YORK -- Gabriella appears to have landed another big one.<BR><BR>Gabriella Forte, the former president and chief operating officer of Calvin Klein Inc. and before that, executive vice president of Giorgio Armani, will reportedly become...

NEW YORK — Gabriella appears to have landed another big one.

Gabriella Forte, the former president and chief operating officer of Calvin Klein Inc. and before that, executive vice president of Giorgio Armani, will reportedly become president of Dolce & Gabbana, the Italian design firm. Forte couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. However sources said she is expected to begin in New York on Monday. Approached at the Nobu restaurant in Milan Thursday night, Domenico Dolce zipped his lips and whispered: “We can’t comment.”

Dolce & Gabbana, which produces women’s and men’s designer collections, generated $210 million in consolidated sales in 2000, with women’s apparel accounting for 60 percent. In earlier interviews, Dolce has said that he sees “incredible growth potential for the brand,” which in 2000 opened its third U.S. freestanding store in Beverly Hills. The two other stores are on Madison Avenue here and in Bal Harbour, Fla.

The appointment of Forte could help bring a higher profile to D&G, whose wild clothes are favored by rockers from Madonna to Gwen Stefani. Last year, the Milanese duo were honored by the Children’s Action Network, and hosted a fall runway extravaganza at a luncheon at the Pacific Palisades home of Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw. However, Dolce had to host solo because Gabbana came down with food poisoning. It was the first time that Dolce had spent any significant time in Los Angeles, and was the company’s first major L.A. fashion show.

During her five-year tenure at Calvin Klein, the Italian-born Forte aggressively expanded Klein’s business into Italy and Europe via a series of joint ventures and partnerships for everything from manufacturing to commercial real estate development. Her strategy was to join forces with Italian partners to produce and sell in Italy and Europe. In addition, she extended Klein’s retail network and built a solid corporate infrastructure. She installed global systems in products, merchandising and advertising and developed a combination of franchising, licensing and company-owned operations, depending on the category and territory.

Forte resigned her Klein post in June, 1999, and became a strategic adviser to Calvin Klein and his partner Barry Schwartz on long-term planning. She relinquished day-to-day operations to devote more time to her family and personal life.

After being rumored to be joining several different companies, including Tommy Hilfiger Corp., Forte joined the dot-com brigade in 2000 as chief executive officer of ibeauty.com. She left about five months ago.

Forte’s return to an Italian firm is a homecoming of sorts. A tough, uncompromising executive, Forte spent 15 years at Armani, where she became one of Italy’s most powerful fashion executives. As executive vice president, Forte headed the U.S. operations and served as Armani’s right-hand woman. Directing the company’s marketing efforts, she was pivotal in all of Armani’s retail decisions, as well as image control, and served as a buffer between the designer and the stores and press. She sent shockwaves through the industry when she left Armani for Klein.

In other news, Italian sources said Dolce & Gabbana will bring production of its D&G line in-house, and not renew a licensing agreement with IT Holding when it expires in 2003.

A D&G spokesman on Wednesday said the company had no official comment on the subject, and he would not respond to press reports that the designers themselves confirmed the termination. Reached at the Romeo Gigli men’s wear fashion show held here, Tonino Perna, chairman and ceo of IT Holding, told WWD that he “did not know what will happen to the license.” IT Holding also produces and distributes young lines for Versace and Roberto Cavalli.

The D&G move is similar to strategies mounted by other European houses, including Giorgio Armani, to take back licenses for greater control over production, image and distribution.

Perna said the company is focusing on the labels it owns — Gianfranco Ferre, Romeo Gigli, Malo, Gentry Portofino, Husky and Exte — and is actively investing in other fashion divisions. “We are in talks about a joint venture with an accessories company in order to develop this market,” said Perna, who added that he expects to complete the agreement next month, but he declined to elaborate. “In addition, we are planning to launch new watch and jewelry lines.”

Perna said the company, which is listed on the Milan stock exchange, registered sales in 2001 of more than $442 million and expects double-digit growth for 2002.

The ceo added that the company plans to invest in Ferre’s retail network and to open stores in September.

IT Holding’s parent, GTP, bought Ferre in December 2000. Perna said the company will be consolidated this year.

Asked whether he was interested in the purchase of Valentino, Perna said he was not contemplating the addition of another fashion house.

“Our stable is full now,” said Perna.