NEW YORK — It’s all over for Richard Tyler and Anne Klein.
In an abrupt, unexpected announcement, the company said Monday afternoon that “due to differences pertaining to the future design direction” Tyler would no longer create its signature collection.
In fact, the real reason was very simple: Tyler’s three collections had failed to perform at the box office.
Rumors were flying that Tyler might be replaced by Patrick Robinson, who only this week resigned from his position as head stylist at the Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni line produced by GFT. An Anne Klein spokesman declined to comment, and Robinson couldn’t be reached.
There were also suggestions that Tyler might be replaced by Michael Kors, but again, Klein officials and Kors declined to comment.
Tyler, the Los Angeles-based designer known for his meticulous tailoring and Hollywood clientele, was hired in May 1993 to rev up the Anne Klein Collection and its licensees, which were fast losing momentum in the stores.
When he took over, the collection reportedly had dwindled to about $20 million to $25 million of Anne Klein’s $220 million in volume, including licensed products. At the time, the company said it was looking for “dramatic growth” on a global level. That didn’t happen.
According to retail sources, Tyler’s fashion forward designs and the Anne Klein customer never clicked. His new design direction, coupled with the firm’s hard-edged ad campaign, not only alienated the traditional Anne Klein customer, but didn’t attract any new ones.
Ironically, only last month, Tyler was named Womenswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America for his signature collection, and he will be feted in January. A year ago he received the New Talent award.
“The separation of Anne Klein and Richard Tyler is effective immediately. The final Tyler-designed Anne Klein Collection is spring 1995,” according to the company’s statement, which, to the surprise of many, was released by a public relations firm. No Anne Klein executive would speak about the matter: Tomio Taki, Frank Mori and Andrew Rosen were all said to be out of the country.
Tyler also declined to comment, but his wife, Lisa Trafficante, told WWD the differences in design directions were “unresolvable.”
“He was moving in his own direction, and I can’t really say what their direction was,” she said. Trafficante added that Tyler’s aim had been to attract a younger customer for Anne Klein and “I think Richard’s collection stands as a testament to that.”
“We have reached an agreement that the differences between the design directions were unresolvable. We all know where Richard was headed.”
Trafficante said the decision to part ways wasn’t sudden and had been “evolving.”
According to sources, Patrick Robinson was interviewed three times at Anne Klein last week. Robinson, who reportedly left his GFT position this weekend, is a friend of former GFT executive Marilyn Kawakami, who is now president of Anne Klein II and A Line.
If Robinson joins Anne Klein, Kawakami is expected to take on a bigger role at the company. And there was even speculation she might take over the Collection, currently headed by Anne Ball. Kawakami could not be reached for comment, but she reportedly informed the staff of Tyler’s departure.
One person who won’t be coming back to Anne Klein, however, is Louis Dell’Olio. “I’m very happy not being part of that mix anymore,” he said, when asked for his reaction to Monday’s news.
“It’s just kind of shocking,” said Dell’Olio. “Donna [Karan] and I designed it for 10 years together. I designed it for 10 years on my own. The company was so established. The customer was loyal. It’s going nowhere and doesn’t have a point of view. It’s become so schizophrenic. Something that was so well-established.”
Dell’Olio reportedly made over $1 million a year, but Tyler’s contract was said to be substantially less, around $700,000 a year. Trafficante declined to comment on the contract.
While designing the Anne Klein Collection, Tyler continued to design his critically acclaimed signature collection and operate his firm, Tyler-Trafficante Inc., which includes a namesake store in Los Angeles. The six-year-old business is owned by Tyler, his wife and her sister, Michelle. Sources estimate the Tyler business, including a newly relaunched men’s wear line, is approaching $15 million in volume.
At the time of Tyler’s joining, the Collection had been losing its edge for several seasons. The Anne Klein collections that paraded down runways each season were said to be too safe and commercial for one of America’s leading design houses.
Initially, stores were extremely enthusiastic about the Tyler-designed Anne Klein, praising the “superb tailoring” and luxurious details such as silk linings and Italian buttons. In fact, the line was so luxurious that prices on some key groups were 15 percent higher than it had been under Dell’Olio.
The line was launched in a new 1,500-square-foot shop in Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship, in a 1,200-square-foot shop in Bloomingdale’s flagship and in Neiman Marcus. In addition, Tyler, his wife and their infant son, Edward Charles, and a group of Anne Klein executives took off on a whirlwind five-city trunk show to promote the initial spring line.
The group started in New York and went to Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta and Los Angeles, appearing at cocktail parties, breakfasts and lunchtime benefits at Saks and Neiman Marcus. The total take from that road show exceeded $600,000 and early in the L.A. event, sales were clocked at about $1,000 per minute.
Soon after, however, retailers became disillusioned when the merchandise didn’t seem to move on its own.
“It did OK, it didn’t do as well as we had hoped,” said one major retailer, who requested anonymity. “I think since it was different from the Anne Klein customer base, it was difficult to make that change; it just didn’t match.”
“He couldn’t design the Anne Klein Collection. We dropped it after a season. It performed terribly,” said Mary Jane Denzer, owner of a high-fashion boutique in White Plains, N.Y.
“The fabrics weren’t beautiful. It was very mediocre. It wasn’t couture at all. It didn’t have a taste level. It wasn’t the Anne Klein customer. It was very middle-of-the road.”
Tyler’s last collection, presented in October, was particularly frightening to many retailers.
“I don’t think I understand what that customer is about. I’m afraid she might be confused,” said one major New York retailer, after the show. Another store described it as being “too trendy” and “junior-y” for the line’s customer.
The Collection’s controversial fall ad campaign, shot by Steven Meisel, didn’t help give definition to the Anne Klein image, either.
When Tyler planned the edgy, black-and-white campaign, he said, “I just want to take Anne Klein into the future. That’s my number-one priority.” The company backed it up with a $2 million ad budget, up $600,000 from the previous fall.
“The collection is where everything starts. It’s not the biggest thing we do, but it’s the most important thing we do,” Andrew Rosen, president of the Anne Klein Group, said at the time.
Flying back and forth between Los Angeles and New York, Tyler became accustomed to the fast pace and told WWD he liked being a commuting designer.
“I get bored being in one place for too long,” he said.
He also said he hoped to expand Anne Klein’s selection to include lingerie and men’s wear.
Trafficante said Monday that Tyler-Trafficante is eager to launch a secondary line in the next few years. “We suddenly feel we have a lot of time on our hands, but we have a lot of plans,” she said.
“I think it’s been great for us to see there’s a broader market. It’s very exciting for us to see people are interested in another price point from Richard Tyler.” The Anne Klein line was priced about 30 percent under Tyler’s collection.
Tyler had begun working closely with Robert Forrest, creative design director at Anne Klein, in revamping many of the Anne Klein licensees. They hired consultants such as Manolo Blahnik and Liza Bruce to assist in footwear and swimwear design, respectively.
By the time he showed his signature resort collection this summer, Tyler was sounding a little disenchanted. He admitted that he had more fun working on his own line, which gave him the freedom to experiment with techniques and fabrics, than he had on the more commercially-driven Anne Klein line.
“I probably had the most fun I’ve ever had designing,” he said of his own resort line. “With my collection, I feel I can be a little more wacky.”
Trafficante has a positive attitude about the failed marriage, and had a word of advice to collectors.
“We thought it was a great product. Anybody who has clothing from it — and spring will be the last collection — I’d say ‘Enjoy it.”‘