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Rothfeld, Klein Partners In Warnaco Buyback?

<CS:BOLD>NEW YORK -- Calvin Klein may have recruited another high-profile teammate in his effort to buy back his jeans and intimate apparel business from bankrupt Warnaco Group Inc., according to a source.<BR><BR>Eric Rothfeld, who Dec. 31 retired as...

NEW YORK — Calvin Klein may have recruited another high-profile teammate in his effort to buy back his jeans and intimate apparel business from bankrupt Warnaco Group Inc., according to a source.

Eric Rothfeld, who Dec. 31 retired as president and chief executive of the Sun Apparel division of Jones Apparel Group, is said to have joined Klein in a Friday meeting at Warnaco’s New York office to discuss the possibility of buying back those operations.

Rothfeld could not be reached for comment Friday or Monday.

Barry Schwartz, chairman and ceo of Calvin Klein Inc., declined to comment on whether such a meeting happened. A spokesman for Warnaco declined to comment on any talks with Rothfeld, saying only that Warnaco’s first priority was selling off its noncore businesses — not including the Calvin Klein operations. Another source said Rothfeld agreed not to compete with his former employer — which also produces the Polo Jeans and Todd Oldham jeans brands — for a “couple” of years following his retirement.

According to Jones’ most recent proxy statement filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission — filed last year — Rothfeld’s employment contract included a two-year noncompete agreement and prevents him from hiring away Jones’ employees for another year after that.

This isn’t the first time Rothfeld’s name has been attached to efforts to buy the Calvin Klein business. Last year, there were rumors that Jones was interested in buying the jeans and intimate apparel businesses, though Jones executives declined to comment on them at the time.

During his court fight with Warnaco and its former chairman and ceo Linda Wachner, Klein made clear his desire to buy back the jeans and intimate apparel business. They won’t come cheap — they are Warnaco’s biggest businesses and Wachner had wanted about $600 million for them.

Rothfeld may well be in a position to give Klein and his business partner, Schwartz, financial backing to buy back the businesses. He owned 60 percent of Sun Apparel Corp. when he sold it to Jones Apparel Group in 1998 in a $444 million deal. While more than half of that value was based on the assumption of debt, $212 million of it was in cash and Jones stock. In his first two years on the Jones payroll, his salary and bonus topped $2 million a year.

As reported, last month Warnaco hired John Kourakos to oversee its Calvin Klein business. Klein officials reacted warmly to the news and the move was seen as a step towards improving the relationship between the two firms.