DESIGN MOVES AT ANNE KLEIN
Byline: Leonard McCants
NEW YORK — Anne Klein’s design team has turned over yet again.
Ken Kaufman and Isaac Franco, who were hired in 1996 and lasted at the house through two terms of ownership, were abruptly replaced this week by Charles Nolan, who joins the firm from bridge house Ellen Tracy, the company said Thursday.
The terms of Kaufman and Franco’s departure were not clarified by Anne Klein parent Kasper ASL, but sources indicated that the duo, who have been working as a team for 14 years, had been searching out other design opportunities in recent months.
Reached on his cellular phone Thursday afternoon, Kaufman said he could not comment on the circumstances surrounding their departure.
In naming Nolan as senior vice president of design for the Anne Klein brands, the company said he will replace Kaufman and Franco, citing “differing points of view” as the reason for the separation.
“I think that Charles has been very successful at Ellen Tracy and his thinking is more in keeping with Anne Klein,” said Arthur Levine, chairman and chief executive officer of Kasper ASL, which purchased the Anne Klein trademarks and assets in 1999.
Asked to elaborate on Franco and Kaufman’s departure, he said, “They are very talented. They have a point of view of where they see things going, which is different than ours. I respect their talent and I think that whatever they do will be a credit to someone else.”
Nolan, who spent more than 10 years at Ellen Tracy, previously designed women’s sportswear lines for a number of labels, including Blassport, Tahari, Christian Dior and Bill Haire. Nolan, who reports directly to Levine, will be responsible for the Anne Klein bridge collections, while Michael Ward will continue as designer of Anne Klein 2.
Nolan’s full influence will be felt with the brand’s resort collection, which is scheduled for retail delivery in November.
Levine described the designer’s thinking as “clean and concise” and noted that his arrival should not change the aesthetic and feel of Anne Klein.
“Anne Klein has always been, and will continue to be, a classic luxury brand, and we would like to continue in that tradition,” Levine said.
Wendy Chivian, president of Anne Klein, added, “In making this very important decision, we listened to the needs of our market and sought the insight of both our customers and our retailers. Charles stays current with the bridge customer and also has a sensibility that works for Anne Klein in terms of the legacy and equity of the brand.”
Nolan, in a statement, described Anne Klein as a “great American brand name,” saying, “It’s an icon. I can think of nothing more rewarding or exciting than the challenge of continuing the Anne Klein legacy.”
He’ll become at least the fifth designer to helm the collection since Donna Karan left Anne Klein in 1985 to form her own company.
In 1993, the company ousted Louis Dell’Olio, who had designed the designer collection with Karan and took over after her departure, bringing in Richard Tyler as a replacement. Tyler was then a relatively unknown name in most of the country, but a popular and critically acclaimed designer in Los Angeles. His designs for Anne Klein were praised in the press, but stores and customers judged them as too aggressive for the traditional Anne Klein client.
The new direction of Anne Klein also failed to draw a younger customer, so Tyler was fired after his third season.
The company then named a less-edgy designer, Patrick Robinson, who had been head stylist for Giorgio Armani’s highly successful Le Collezioni line, as designer in an aim to rebuild the traditional Anne Klein career customer base. But Robinson’s three collections, shown on the runways in Bryant Park, were poorly received by the press and retailers.
In 1996, Anne Klein hired Franco and Kaufman away from their post at the highly praised bridge collection Emanuel/Emanuel Ungaro, which was then a division of GFT. Sales of that brand had grown to $150 million at wholesale within six years under their design direction.
In hiring Kaufman and Franco, the company pulled the plug on its 28-year-old collection line, deciding to concentrate on its core bridge business, which was renamed from Anne Klein II to Anne Klein. They were named senior vice presidents and co-design directors, with responsibility for the company’s entire design direction, including apparel and accessories.
When Kasper ASL acquired the brands in 1999 for $60 million from industry veterans Frank Mori and Tomio Taki, the brand’s sales were estimated at around $120 million at wholesale, not including its $250 million in licensed categories. Kasper has since brought back the Anne Klein II label as Anne Klein 2, positioned as a better-priced career line.
Kasper has also launched suit lines under both labels, which have been strong resources cited by several department stores in recent retail checks. Kasper has introduced licensed collections of Anne Klein fur, swimwear and sleepwear, and Anne Klein 2 coats and accessories.