Anne Klein’s New Recruit: Christian Francis Roth Said Taking Design Helm

Christian Francis Roth is the heir apparent to the design helm at Anne Klein, which Jones Apparel Group is about to get when it buys Kasper A.S.L.

NEW YORK — Even before its deal to acquire Anne Klein’s parent company, Kasper A.S.L., is complete, Jones Apparel Group apparently has a successor in mind for its new crown jewel: Christian Francis Roth, the Nineties designer best known for his crayon dresses.

Jones officials have been playing down the impact of the surprise resignation of Anne Klein designer Michael Smaldone last Wednesday, the day after he presented a widely drubbed collection of oversexed white blouses and molested utility skirts, but that could be because there are now indications that both Jones and Smaldone already had Plan Bs in the works.

Sources at the company and those close to Roth said the designer, who had most recently been working for labels like Esprit and Tommy Bahama, is currently involved in planning the future of the Anne Klein New York collection with Jones officials, even though Jones’ deal to buy Kasper out of bankruptcy court for $215.5 million is not expected to close for another few weeks.

“They’re already sourcing and designing the fall collection,” said one source, noting that Roth’s role has not yet been finalized.

Bad reviews aside, the timing of Smaldone’s departure also exposed some potential transitional issues between Jones and the Kasper-Anne Klein organizations. Smaldone, who had been with the company only a year and was promoted from the better-priced AK Anne Klein division last season, was named senior vice president of design for Ann Taylor Stores last week, officially joining that company last Friday and replacing Mark Eisen, who had resigned for personal reasons.

Smaldone reportedly had a contract offer from Ann Taylor several weeks ago, and “he saw the writing on the wall” when Jones landed the company during a heated auction with Kellwood Co. this summer, one source said.

A spokeswoman for Anne Klein said earlier this week that the company would not likely name a successor to Smaldone in the near future, saying only that the existing design team in place could handle the transition and that the company was treating the situation as “business as usual.” She wouldn’t say when the company first learned of Smaldone’s plans to leave, but other employees said it was not until after the show that he announced his move to Ann Taylor.
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