By  on May 24, 1994

NEW YORK -- In contrast to a jilted Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein couldn't be happier.

His newest recruit, president and chief operating officer Gabriella Forte, a key force behind the growth of Armani's business, is expected to give Klein the international presence he covets.

"It's such a coup," said Klein, in an interview Monday.

As for an angry Armani's charge that Klein has swiped not only his people, but his designs, Klein said, "I think he's a great designer. He's a world class talent. I think I understand how he feels, [but] I run my own horse race. I don't think about Giorgio Armani or any other designer."

Concerning Forte's appointment, Klein said, "She will be a tremendous asset in expanding globally every aspect of our business."

"We have so many opportunities globally, and we're constantly pursuing expansion in Asia and in Europe. She has tremendous expertise in all these areas -- retail stores, licensing and marketing."

"We've just begun to touch Europe," he continued. "We'll be opening freestanding stores, and we're selling the finest stores [there]. This is an area where she's built a lot of stores and has a lot of strength in operating freestanding stores."

So far, Calvin Klein has stores in Zurich, St. Moritz, Barcelona and Munich, and he's looking at sites in Italy, Madrid and Geneva. Klein is also considering freestanding stores in New York City and Beverly Hills, as reported.

"I'm not ready to make a statement on the New York store or the Beverly Hills store," he said.

Klein said the company had been searching for a president for the past five months and had hired a search firm, Don Ross Associates here, to find an executive to run the company.

"I've been hearing about Gabriella Forte for the last 15 years and have seen and heard what her contributions were. The search firm confirmed to me there's no one better."

While Klein declined to reveal her compensation package, he said, "it's really commensurate with someone of her stature and this position. Someone described it as a 'mega-deal,' and I think it's fair to say it is."Are Klein and Schwartz prepared to give up some of their authority?

"We'll be giving her the reins," Klein said.

"There is no question that along with the responsibilities we're giving her, Barry and I will be letting go of a number of things we've involved ourselves with, but our roles won't be diminished.

"When the company was smaller, I was involved in so many things. As the company grows and expands, you need a great management team. It will allow the management team, and Barry and me, to take the company to a level it's never been."

Is going public in the picture?

"I'm really more concerned with the opportunities and all the challenges and finding the best business partners. I wouldn't rule it out, because, who knows? It's not what we have in mind now."

When asked if there are still some remaining in-house businesses that he would like to license, Klein replied, "As those opportunities come up, we look at them and analyze them. It's really as they present themselves."

While Klein said he couldn't say when a CK Jeans-Fruit of the Loom deal would be completed, he admitted, "We are talking to them. I'm excited by the opportunity and the talks. I've known Bill Farley [ceo of Fruit of the Loom], and it's a great company."

Klein said that he would meet with Forte this weekend to discuss every aspect of the business, see where the opportunities are and to set a strategy.

"She has a reputation for being very hands-on, and being very involved and it will be an added strength," he said. He noted that each of the division presidents, senior managers and key product design executives will report to Forte.

Will Forte be hands-on in design, as well?

"She's a businesswoman, and she told me she wasn't a designer. She'll ask the questions and make sure we're maximizing our business," he said.

Does it worry Klein that Armani has been struggling with its Simint SpA and A/X Armani Exchange businesses in the U.S.?"No one hits it perfectly. I was looking at what Giorgio Armani has accomplished. She's been right there helping him, and it's an extraordinary accomplishment."

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