BYBLOS BOYS OUT AFTER 15 YEARS, AS MILAN FIRM APPOINTS RICHARD TYLER

Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — The Byblos boys are out and Richard Tyler is in.
Tyler has been named design director of the Italian sportswear label Byblos, with a three-year contract. He replaces Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver, the design team that has overseen Byblos since 1981.
Tyler will be in charge of design for the women’s and men’s sportswear collections and will oversee the runway shows, but he will not be responsible for Byblos’s numerous licensees.
While their recent collections for Byblos received negative reviews, Cleaver and Varty — who became known as “the Byblos boys” shortly after taking over the label 15 years ago — were the force behind one of the hottest labels of the Eighties and, for a few years, among the highest paid designers in the world.
During their heyday, Byblos produced colorful but sophisticated clothes, mixing prints and colors with a sense of whimsy that appealed to women and men. Byblos was carried by stores such as Charivari, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York. But in recent years, the design duo lost its focus, producing collections that were a mish-mash of trendy looks. Worldwide sales plummeted from $150 million in 1990 to $80 million this year.
With the move, Genny Holding SpA hopes to double its U.S. business over the next year.
Rumors that the contract for Cleaver and Varty would not be renewed have been circulating for some time, with men’s wear designer John Bartlett said to be on the short list this summer.
Cleaver and Varty, who have lived a jet-set lifestyle in Europe and the U.S., could not be reached for comment.
“Mrs. Girombelli feels that creativity and modernity and freedom for the young is coming from America,” said a Genny spokeswoman here, referring to Donatella Girombelli, chairwoman of Genny Holding SpA, which owns Byblos as well as Complice. “Richard Tyler is a designer she’s been following. She feels he is not only incredibly talented but, with his background of couture and tailoring, can give Byblos that quality with a new modernity.”
Tyler’s debut for the label will be the fall 1997 men’s wear collection, shown in Milan in January. His first women’s collection will be shown in March, also in Milan. In addition to the apparel and the runway shows, Tyler will have input on Byblos’s advertising and marketing.
He will continue to show his own collections in New York.
This is Tyler’s second round as design director for another sportswear company. He was design director for the Anne Klein collection for three seasons, from 1992 to 1994, but his approach to reviving the venerable sportswear label did not mesh with the line’s established identity. Tyler was fired by Anne Klein executives after his edgy approach to the label did not sell well. Klein then tried again with Patrick Robinson, an alumnus of Giorgio Armani, but that also flopped, and the company is now out of the designer business entirely.
However, Tyler’s own women’s and men’s collections have recently received critical and retail praise, and his business, while still small, has been slowing growing into other areas, including a footwear license. Tyler has also said he is interested in a fragrance deal.
Most recently, Tyler signed a deal with Gruppo Nadini for a new label, Richard Tyler Collection, which will be priced at designer levels. Jackets, for example, will retail around $900 to $1,200. His top line has been renamed Richard Tyler Couture and will have jackets retailing from $1,200 up.
The Byblos line currently retails from $800 to $1,000 for suits with jackets at $700 to $800.
“Byblos is a great name,” said Tyler Monday in a telephone interview from his hotel room in Vignola, Italy, where Gruppo Nadini is based. “It’s young, driven and the infrastructure is incredible. The staff and Mrs. Girombelli are very supportive of what I want to do. They know where it has to go. I want to take it back to what it was — fun, young. It’s priced below what I’m doing now, so it’s like a diffusion line.”
Tyler said the biggest difference between the Anne Klein experience and the Byblos venture is that he isn’t dealing with the same kind of name and history that met him at Anne Klein.
“It’s so difficult for any designer to come in after another designer, especially when there are still people who knew her and were close to her,” Tyler said of Anne Klein’s continued influence over the identity of that line.
At Byblos, Tyler said he hopes to be able to bring the label back to its creative, whimsical-but-elegant identity, an idea Girombelli echoed.
“Richard is taking us in a new direction,” said Girombelli through a spokeswoman. “We believe it will marry Richard’s sartorial abilities and Byblos’s quality with a young, modern American spirit.”
But Tyler will be sorely pressed for time. He must now produce four women’s and men’s wear collections each year under his own name — two for Couture, two for Collection. In addition, he will do four women’s collections and two men’s for Byblos.
In response, Tyler said he and his partner and wife Lisa Trafficante will probably spend more time in their New York offices as a result of the deal, to try to cut down on traveling time.
“We’re setting up a much stronger design team in New York,” said Tyler. “But a lot of the direction doesn’t have to done in Italy. There’s no one saying, ‘You have to be here this many days, you have to spend this much time here.”‘
Tyler also said he has full faith in his own staffs here and in Los Angeles, as well as in the Byblos staff in Italy.
“My pattern makers in Los Angeles know me so well that I can just describe what I want over the phone, and they do it perfectly,” he said. “And at Byblos, they have an incredible staff. They’re very supportive of me, and of Lisa, which is very important because she brings a lot to the table.”
Byblos’s current worldwide sales of $80 million includes numerous licensees, such as fragrance, neckwear, leather goods, eyewear and footwear, among others. Byblos also has 18 freestanding stores worldwide.
Byblos has been in existence since 1973, when it started as a women’s line. The men’s line was added in 1984.
Genny plans to “greatly increase the volume of its apparel collections within the next year” in the U.S. through a “renewed effort at distribution.” The spokeswoman said the company hopes to be close to doubling sales worldwide by the end of next year. Total worldwide sales for the Genny, Byblos and Complice lines are around $300 million.

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