By and  on December 14, 2004

NEW YORK — When it comes to steering his namesake brands, Karl Lagerfeld will leave the driving to Tommy Hilfiger Corp.

“I can make an Empire dress, but I can’t make an empire,” joked Lagerfeld, sitting in the Soho Grand here Monday. He and Hilfiger were interviewed together about their new deal, which they signed over the weekend.

 Confirming an exclusive report in WWD Monday, Hilfiger will acquire Lagerfeld’s trademarks — Karl Lagerfeld, Lagerfeld Gallery, KL and Lagerfeld, for an undisclosed cash sum. In addition, the agreement includes two Lagerfeld Gallery stores in Paris and Monaco, as well as Lagerfeld’s fragrance business, which is licensed to Unilever Ltd.

 “I’m not a businessman,” said the German designer, explaining that he will rely on Hilfiger’s firm to run the business end and set the direction in terms of distribution, production, marketing and licensing. Lagerfeld has signed a five-year contract with an automatic three-year renewal with Hilfiger, under which Lagerfeld will continue to design and provide creative direction for his brands.

Ann Acierno, president of new business development at Hilfiger, will oversee the Lagerfeld business from New York. She previously worked at Victoria’s Secret Direct, the Internet division of Estée Lauder, InStyle.com and Saks Fifth Avenue’s Folio. The company intends to find showroom and studio space here, preferably downtown, said Lagerfeld.

Investors seemed to like Hilfiger’s purchase of the Lagerfeld trademarks, sending the shares of Tommy stock up 40 cents, or 3.8 percent, to close at $11 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

So how did two seemingly opposite personalities ever come together in the first place? “I photographed him in Paris last summer. We never thought we’d go into business together, but we had lunch the next day,” said Lagerfeld.

 Hilfiger explained that Lagerfeld invited him to his home after the magazine photo shoot “and we chatted about everything.”

“We talked about other businesses, and Tommy suggested we should do something together,” said Lagerfeld.

“He was talking about Chanel and Fendi, and that he hasn’t focused on his own brand,” added Hilfiger.

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