NEW YORK — Ken and Isaac are back.

This story first appeared in the January 28, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

After designing together for more than 15 years, Ken Kaufman and Isaac Franco — the team behind Anne Klein and Emanuel/Emanuel Ungaro in the Nineties — will launch their first signature label for fall retailing in the designer price category, Kaufman said on Tuesday. The new line will be called KaufmanFranco, with the label appearing in all capital letters and with no space between the designers’ surnames.

“It reflects a seamless transition of everything we’ve been doing,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman and Franco were well known as the designers behind the Anne Klein label from 1996 to 2001, when the house restored some of its historic glory by reintroducing higher-priced merchandise at the upper end of the bridge spectrum. The designers had been raided from the rival Emanuel collection, the lower-priced division of Emanuel Ungaro, where they had worked since 1991 and had been credited as a crucial element of the label’s success during the boom years for the bridge market. They had worked together at Warnaco and Bob Mackie before that.

Their departure from Anne Klein in February 2001, after two changes in ownership, came shortly after its acquisition by Kasper A.S.L. Since then, Kasper burned through two additional design successors — Charles Nolan and Michael Smaldone — and ultimately sold the label again, during its bankruptcy proceedings, to Jones Apparel Group.

At each firm, the designers produced collections with volumes greater than $100 million, reaching as high as $150 million in the case of Emanuel at its peak.

Meanwhile, Kaufman and Franco have been consulting for various design houses as they prepared to launch their own collection. Rumors that the designers would return on their own had crept up frequently over the last three years, but Kaufman said he and his partner had approached their return carefully. They have been working on the launch for the past year, with financial backing from partners they would not disclose. The designers also have plans to show the KaufmanFranco collection in a static presentation during the fall fashion week in New York, although details have not yet been finalized.

“This is really what we’ve been striving for over the past year, as we’ve been refining what our vision is, as well as getting the experience to come back into the market,” Kaufman said. “It’s really the combination of the two of us, the things that define our points of view and a lot of contrasts — sexy to conservative, raw to refined, and blending technology with craftsmanship.”

The designers have been collaborating with Work in Progress on its corporate identity and branding of KaufmanFranco, which will be based at 145 West 57th Street in Manhattan. They plan to develop samples here and produce the collection in Europe, targeting a limited launch with department and specialty store distribution.

“There’s definitely a tremendous opportunity for what we are doing, but we’ve only started accelerating our plans,” Kaufman said. “We’re being very selective in our distribution and our strategy is to grow slowly. We’ve been gaining all this experience to ultimately get to this point. It’s where we’ve always wanted to be.”