ANNE KLEIN: THE NEXT ACT
Byline: Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — Frank Mori is not a happy man.
“Anne Klein in this country isn’t going in the direction it should be,” said Mori, the president and chief executive officer of Takihyo Inc., the company that owns Klein.
Two years ago, Klein hired Richard Tyler — then a man whose Hollywood clientele had given him cult-like status — to design the Collection. Tyler’s appointment was assumed by many observers as the step that would inject new life into a $175 million company with a well-known name but a stale image.
Tyler did three collections for Anne Klein. While some of the collection got raves from the press, retailers were lukewarm from the start and became downright hostile by the third and last collection. The final straw was the edgy and controversial ad campaign developed by Tyler and Steven Meisel, which was meant to shock, but instead further confused the customer and the stores.
Tyler was dismissed last December, and Patrick Robinson quietly brought in to replace him. Robinson had been design coordinator of Le Collezioni White Label, the bridge line designed by Giorgio Armani for Gruppo GFT.
It was a different story when Mori first met Tyler, shortly after the start of the Nineties, and had a memorable conversation with him about the company.
“Tyler had not yet shown in New York,” Mori recalled during an interview in his office here, “but I was more than impressed with his verbal interpretation of what Anne Klein was. He described it brilliantly, better probably than I could have — how he’d grown up with it, what he knew about it.
“Richard came on board, but what he thought could be accomplished and what we thought could be accomplished didn’t work.”
Ending the relationship with Tyler was “something we both felt was necessary,” said Mori.
Tyler has declined all requests for an interview about the firing, but he did direct some pointed comments toward Mori during his acceptance speech at the CFDA awards last month.
However, Lisa Trafficante, his wife and business partner, said: “When there’s a difference of vision, it’s best to go your separate ways. There are a lot of great people [at Anne Klein], and I hope the new ideas work for them. We’ve got so much going on here that the pace hasn’t really slowed down since we left. All that seems so long ago.”
Although many observers felt Tyler’s work for Klein was too avant-garde, Mori disagrees.
“I don’t think that Richard did [go too far],” he said. “I do think that there was a broad interpretation. I don’t deny the fact that the press is very powerful, but if you took the time to come into the showrooms — and few people did — what Richard really did was not necessarily what went down the runway.
“I think there was a misinterpretation of whether it was too edgy. The principal issue with Richard’s clothes, vis-e-vis Anne Klein, was that it was outfits, rather than sportswear, and there weren’t parts that mixed and matched and built a wardrobe.
“It’s not that we want to play paper dolls, but it is the backbone of what we do. Richard’s way of design, and looking at design, is as ‘an outfit,’ and that doesn’t make him a bad guy or a bad designer. It wasn’t that Richard was too far out, and it isn’t in any way, shape or form that we believe that Patrick is safe.”
Robinson said he understands what Mori wants. The 28-year-old designer is working full force on the Collection, which will be seen on a runway in Bryant Park on April 5 at 3 p.m.
“What I want to do for Anne Klein is a broad American sportswear collection with many options,” he said. “Really, if you will, a mix-and-match sort of Collection. You can take one of my jackets in any fabric and mix it with four or five bottoms. You can take a suit and put three blouses under it. That’s sportswear, that’s what a woman needs, and that’s the mix and match I was talking about. It’s just broadening the range, the scope.”
Replacing Tyler with Robinson has not been the only important change that has been effected. Marilyn Kawakami took her post as president of the Anne Klein II and A Line divisions in November, and Andrew Rosen, president of Anne Klein & Co., is developing an aggressive new marketing and advertising plan with The Arnell Group.
It’s all part of the company’s new battle plan.
“We have a great opportunity in the Collection end of this business,” said Mori. “There’s an opportunity that exists uniquely for Anne Klein in the bridge business, whether in ‘go-to-work career’ or in the slightly more casual A Line division.”
Mori said the Anne Klein II bridge business is the company’s biggest money maker, although he declined to specify what percentage of the company’s overall volume it accounts for.
“All three of them, and our licensing, are our four core businesses, and they are not nearly developed to where they should be or can be.”
Among the areas targeted for growth are:
New businesses, such as fragrance, beauty, innerwear and home furnishings.
Broadening and deepening existing businesses with the three lines and the licensees. Anne Klein has 19 licenses, which do a total of some $250 million.
The last is currently the highest on the list, according to Mori.
“We have three significant resources at Anne Klein,” said Mori. “We have the brand name and franchise, outstanding people and a fair amount of money.”
Those resources, he said, are best utilized at this time to build the existing businesses rather than signing new licensing deals and starting new divisions. Opening retail stores, for example, does not appeal to him at present.
“To use a retail metaphor,” he said, “I want to get comparable-store growth, not get corporate growth because I opened another store.”
While Mori cautioned that he was just estimating, he said he’d be “disappointed if we didn’t grow about 15 percent a year, compounded.” Or, as Rosen said, “Anne Klein should be a much bigger company. Absolutely.” Rosen said that growth rates in the last few years have fluctuated, but he admitted it’s been less than 15 percent.
While there is already a $75 million business for the label in Japan under license with Takihyo Ltd., Rosen said he wants to see more international business develop.
Anne Klein does business in the Far East, Mexico, the Mideast, Australia and the U.K., and Rosen said he’s got plans to increase distribution in Europe.
For Kawakami, this is a return engagement at Klein. She left the company in 1987 and spent the last three years at Gruppo GFT, most recently as director of global merchandising and fashion direction. That’s precisely the kind of background that Klein executives expect will generate greater global penetration.
Her goal now, she said, is to “get the companies on line, get them going, build volume — but the right kind of volume, to make sure that the segment of the market we are catering to is correct, to realign the look and the price point.”
Anne Klein II, Kawakami said, began to go astray when it focused too much on career looks.
“Some of it was very traditional, some of it was very modern, and some of it was almost matronly,” she said. “It got a little bit schizophrenic. I want to take it back to its original concept, which was designer apparel at better prices. It wasn’t classic, it wasn’t traditional. It was a designer look and a designer attitude that was easy to wear, but with a twist.”
Anne Klein II should be “embracing a trend if it is commercial, but not cutting-edge,” Kawakami added.
“Cutting-edge doesn’t belong in bridge, which I think has a much broader scope,” she said.
A Line, the casual line that bowed in 1991, still needs “some tweaking and polishing,” Kawakami said, adding, “A Line is an intriguing proposition. I think it has also had its shares of ups and downs and identity crises.”
“A Line will be firmly positioned as a resource for more casual workwear and weekend apparel,” said Rosen, and will also include the Anne Klein Denim line that was quietly launched last year.
Retailers, many of whom were confused by the direction in which Tyler’s designs seemed headed, say the Anne Klein name still has leverage — and that’s what the company hopes to capitalize on.
“The customer will come back rather quickly if she gets a solid advertising image and good product,” said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president and fashion director of Bloomingdale’s. “You don’t build a name like that over 25 years and then have the customer disappear.”
“[Patrick] Robinson’s thoughts for fall sound extremely interesting,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything yet, but we’ve known him from White Label for several seasons, and he should bring the company what it wants: understatement and salability.”
“Anne Klein is the basis of executive dressing,” said Carolyn Moss, fashion director of Macy’s East. “The Anne Klein II line is like family for us. We were here when it got started, and we’re looking forward to great things with Marilyn.”
“How many firms in the designer business in this country, or even around the world, have been around as long as we have, and continued to grow and prosper?” Mori asked. “There’s not one I can think of. Chanel has made an amazing comeback, but all those wonderful names — Claire McCardell, Halston — are gone, they’ve disappeared. We have a franchise here that people grow into.”
Enter Peter Arnell.
Arnell, the advertising whiz whose association with Donna Karan made marketing history, was hired by his longtime friend, Andrew Rosen, to conjure up some of the same kind of magic for Anne Klein.
The marketing plan includes all the existing businesses, as well as a few that are being planned for the long term: cosmetics, fragrances, innerwear. It starts by detailing the existing brand equity, which Mori and other executives feel is an unexploited gold mine that will significantly boost the bottom line.
Arnell’s first efforts for Klein are now on TV and in magazines. Image-driven, they are for Collection and Anne Klein II.
In addition to capitalizing on the name, Rosen and Arnell are working on building an image that will be both unified and broad in appeal. Mori did say that some more of the campaign would be launched during this year, but added: “I want to get it refined to the point that we come out with a set of maxims for Anne Klein the company, for Anne Klein Collection, which is the center of what we do, for Anne Klein II, for A Line and for our licenses and a handful of other things.”
These “maxims,” he said, would be statements that define the Anne Klein customer and what she expects from the company. He said he would like to see them as plaques and stated he would have one on the wall of his office.
It might easily say: “To thine own self be true.”