Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — The launch of Anne Klein Suits couldn’t have come at a better time.
At least not from the perspective of the top brass at Kasper ASL, which has been incorporating the Anne Klein business into its operations for the past nine months since it acquired the franchise, and is anxiously awaiting a revenue payoff for the investment.
The launch is also a welcome step for Anne Klein designers Isaac Franco and Ken Kaufman, who said they were eager to work in a category that happens to be their new boss’s strongest suit.
It’s also great timing from the perspective of the fashion world, which, as evidenced by the fall runway collections, is embracing structured looks like jackets and suits in a pendulous shift away from casual knits.
“When we started the Anne Klein Suits launch, we weren’t experiencing a career trend,” said Gregg I. Marks, president of Kasper. “All of a sudden, career is here, and we look like geniuses.”
Despite the suit’s revival, Anne Klein’s entry into the bridge suit category had already been eagerly anticipated by retailers and suit makers. That category is currently dominated by Tahari, Jones New York and Albert Nipon, the last of which is a $30 million division of Kasper. The Anne Klein Suits line is priced to retail around $400 to $500, slightly lower than Jones’s average prices.
“When we decided to do this was six months ago, before Vogue and everybody else started hailing the suit as the future of the business,” said Arthur Levine, chairman and chief executive officer of Kasper, noting that, at the time, the category had “bottomed out.”
“The suit business has not been stellar,” he said. “But we happened to come along at the right moment. The suit business has become great, and with Anne Klein, it has helped make Kasper a company to contend with.”
Kasper’s reputation for its better-priced signature suit division has long focused on its consistency of fit, its fast turnaround and quick replenishment programs, all attributes that have helped position the Anne Klein launch — since it has Kasper’s production backing — as a potentially major player in suits in the coming year, Marks said.
“For 20 years I was fighting for the best locations in stores, and now they’re giving them to me,” Levine said.
Wendy R. Chivian, president of Anne Klein, added that, more than anything else, the opening could help invigorate overall suit departments with a label as strong as Anne Klein.
“They needed a modern look in suit departments,” Chivian said. “This is now a sportswear company making suits that is owned by a suit company.”
The launch includes 45 styles in a range of colors, with a focus on interpreting key fabrics from the Anne Klein sportswear collection into suit silhouettes. Among the best received looks thus far are a two-tone beaded gray flannel pantsuit, a one-button textured winter-white wool skirt suit and a rust mohair jacket over an espresso turtleneck and wool trousers.
Key details in the line are Anne Klein’s signature pick stitching, dolman sleeves, double-faced fabrics, snap buttons, detachable fur collars and leather details.
“Suits are a natural for us,” said designer Franco, “especially with Arthur Levine running the show and owning the company. That’s what he does best, so this is the perfect chance to do it.”
Franco said his and Kaufman’s strategy in suits was to incorporate novel designs beyond the industry standard of a contrasting or interesting lining.
“Within the suit market, it can get a little kitschy,” he said. “The challenge was how to create something special that is still sophisticated and tasteful.”
Marks added that with the strength of suit sales, based on fall projections and current spring demand at retail, initial bookings for the fall premiere have been extended 25 to 30 percent ahead of Kasper’s initial plan. The company plans to add a petite-suit division for spring 2001.
Among the accounts signed on for the suit debut are Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s and Dayton Hudson, Levine said.
“This has definitely raised the bar for Kasper,” Marks said. “Now they know we’re a major player. Now they don’t think of us as just a suit company.”

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