By  on May 23, 1994

NEW YORK -- Gabriella Forte, long a pillar of the house of Giorgio Armani, is expected to be named president and chief operating officer of Calvin Klein Inc., it was learned.

The announcement could come as early as today, according to people familiar with the development, although she's not expected to join the company until after the summer.

Forte, who is Giorgio Armani's executive vice president, is responsible for Armani's U.S. operations. She also has key duties for press, marketing, retail relations and events for the Milan-based designer.

Neither Barry Schwartz, chairman of Calvin Klein, nor Calvin Klein, vice chairman, could be reached for comment. Forte also could not be reached.

Forte will be a key addition to the top management of the Klein company. Klein and Schwartz have been handling many of the duties she will be taking over as she moves into the new post, overseeing both the U.S. and the designer's expanding interest overseas. She will report to Klein and Schwartz.

Although Forte has privately stated she would only consider leaving Armani for a job that would give her equity, sources said she will not have ownership in the Klein company. However, they described her package with the firm, in terms of salary, bonus and other factors, as a "mega-deal." In fact, it was understood, Calvin Klein himself finalized the terms of the deal in a secret meeting with Forte last week in Milan.

This move comes as Klein's fashion business is undergoing a major restructuring, with the firm looking to put more emphasis on licensing and expanding on a global basis.

In March, Klein sold his men's underwear business to The Warnaco Group, which also licensed the trademarks for men's accessories worldwide. Warnaco will also acquire the worldwide rights to Klein's name for women's innerwear when the U.S. license for that business expires at the end of the year. The deal for the men's underwear and accessories was worth $62.5 million, and there will be additional royalty payments on the men's underwear once that business, currently doing about $70 million annually, tops $200 million.

Last week, Fruit of the Loom confirmed that it was negotiating for the CK Calvin Klein jeans business, another segment handled directly by the designer's company. The jeans business represents the majority of Klein's reported $150 million CK business. The remainder is the bridge collection.According to sources, the designer's Collection generates a wholesale volume of about $60 million. Klein's biggest moneymaker -- his fragrance business, licensed to Unilever Ltd. -- does more than $400 million in wholesale volume worldwide.

Sources estimate that Klein's licensing income in 1994 will be between $45 million and $50 million, up from $35 million to $36 million in 1993.

Klein plans to continue operating the Collection business as an ongoing concern and an image-builder.

The company also recently established a Calvin Klein company in Japan to expand his business in the Far East.

Forte, who has been with Armani for 15 years, is known as a tough businesswoman who has presided over the explosion of Armani's business in the U.S. during the past 10 years. Armani basically consulted Forte on every decision regarding retailing, marketing, the press and special events.

Forte will not be the first Armani employee to join Calvin Klein. Last fall, Noona Smith Peterson, who once worked with Armani but most recently was with Valentino in Milan, became Calvin Klein's press representative in Europe, opening an office in Milan. Some design assistants who worked for Armani also now work with Klein.

News of Forte's departure comes at a difficult time for Armani, struggling with the problems of Simint SpA, the Italian manufacturer in which he holds a 22 percent interest. Simint makes Armani jeans and operates the A/X Armani Exchange retail business in the U.S. through Simint USA. Earlier this month, Simint SpA reported an accumulated loss of $116.3 million (184 billion lire) for the 10 months ended Feb. 28, with Simint's U.S. operation contributing a loss of $13.9 million (22 billion lire).

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