By  on July 25, 2006

PARIS — According to Karl Lagerfeld, "bridge" is a term for dentistry, not fashion.

That's why Lagerfeld supported Tommy Hilfiger Corp.'s decision last month to shut down the fledgling New York-based Karl Lagerfeld label, returning the focus of the business back onto his Paris-based designer collection.

"Fred Gehring was right to close it down," Lagerfeld said, referring to Hilfiger's new global chief executive officer, who took over last May following the sale of the U.S. company to Apax Partners. "This organization couldn't work."

In his first interview about the closure, the designer said he understood Gehring's more pressing need is to reposition the Hilfiger brand, which has been struggling in America. And he added that he ultimately took issue with the positioning of the new Karl Lagerfeld contemporary line, which he had hoped would become a big-volume business, but whose prices approached the bridge zone.

"It was much too expensive. Today there is Gap, Zara and H&M," said Lagerfeld. "My name is a kind of household name. I am supposed to be on jeans and T-shirts."

Still, his new brand owner is brimming with confidence about the potential of the Lagerfeld brand — even though he stopped short of ruling out an eventual disposal.

Lagerfeld's collection business, to be rebranded Karl Lagerfeld, "continues to hold tremendous potential. The name Karl Lagerfeld carries a worldwide reputation and represents the ultimate in fashion and glamour," Gehring told WWD, adding that he decided to "turn back to where the business was at the time of the [Hilfiger] acquisition in 2005 and focus solely on growing this first line to its full potential."

Asked if Apax plans to maintain ownership of the Lagerfeld brand, he replied: "It is Apax's objective to develop this business opportunity to its full potential within the TH Group, but of course Apax will always consider new strategic options that may arise."

In the meantime, Gehring said he would consider launching another Lagerfeld second line in the future. Venturing into other licensed product categories and international markets are also among possible growth tacks.

Lagerfeld's New York collection — billed as contemporary — is to be discontinued following its fall 2006 retail debut, a closure that affected 25 jobs in New York, including that of Ann Acierno, president of new business development, and Melanie Ward, creative director.

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