By and  on January 9, 2002

NEW YORK -- Arthur S. Levine and Elie Tahari -- two of the most potent names in the suit business -- have teamed up to create a new better label in a bombshell partnership.

Levine, who once controlled as much as 90 percent of America's suit business through Kasper ASL, but ultimately left the company he founded during a management turnover in September, has acquired a 50 percent stake in Tahari's existing bridge suit business and will launch a better-priced collection at retail this fall.

Not only does the deal mark the 60-year-old Levine's quick return to a market in which he is probably the best-known executive, but it also puts his name back on a label for customers familiar with the trademark fit and quality of the Kasper ASL collection. The new line is called Arthur S. Levine for Tahari, and first-year projections top $75 million.

It will go head-to-head in the better suit market with the $350 million Kasper business, now headed by former Donna Karan chief executive John Idol, who also took over Levine's title of chairman when he resigned.

Gregg Marks, president of Kasper, said he couldn't comment about his old boss's new venture because he hadn't seen the line or heard any details.

"All I can say is our business has been strong, and if not for the events and effects of Sept. 11, we would have had one of our best years ever," Marks said. "Overall, our sales met plan and markdowns were in line with expectations. We've historically had our best years in a down economy because consumers trade down and also because suits represent good value."

Levine also made the point that suit business has been outperforming other areas of apparel in recent months because of the value and safety of purchase they represent to consumers. He expects that to continue throughout the fall launch.

Tahari built his reputation over 25 years with his signature sportswear collection with sales over $100 million, plus the successful five-year-old Theory venture that is a separate partnership with Andrew Rosen.

But Tahari is probably best known among American consumers for suits -- ones appropriate for job interviews or to build a successful career wardrobe with a slightly more fashionable edge than a basic navy jacket and skirt.

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