Calvin’s Swan Song

Calvin Klein told several friends that Friday’s fall collection would be his final one — at least in his position as chief designer.

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Calvin Klein’s flirty silk gazar dress

Photo By Thomas Iannaccone

NEW YORK — If it appeared that Calvin Klein lingered on the runway for a moment or two longer than usual when he took his post-show bow on Friday evening, there was a good reason: It was his last show in total control of the designs bearing his name.

The designer, one of the driving forces of American fashion for the past three and a half decades, told several close friends backstage that Friday’s fall collection would be his final one, at least in his position as the chief designer, although it remains to be seen whether Klein becomes the Michael Jordan of fashion — bowing out for now but returning to the runway eventually because he misses the excitement.

Klein has always vowed he would never retire because he loved what he did too much.

He had been expected to reduce his role at the company following its sale to Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. for an initial $430 million in cash, which was completed last week, but the designer surprised many of his employees by the much sharper degree to which he evidently plans to do so. Klein’s decision was even more surprising since PVH, for its part, remains firmly committed to doing runway shows for the designer’s women’s and men’s brands.

In a lengthy internal memo that was personally addressed to several vice presidents on Friday, Klein basically formalized his ongoing role in the company as that of a "consulting creative director." But the language of that letter left many people to draw the conclusion that the 60-year-old Klein might well be scaling back his role in the company he founded in 1968 with his life-long friend Barry Schwartz, who did formally retire from the company last week.

The mood backstage and at a dinner after the show that night was occasionally somber and filled with confusion over just what Klein meant when he told several associates that would be his last show — and just how serious he was. Several people were crying backstage and Klein’s daughter, Marci, had tears in her eyes as the models took their final exit.

According to insiders, the terms of the deal reached by Schwartz and Klein to sell the company to PVH basically leaves the decision to participate in future Calvin Klein collections up to the designer, who is of course bound by a non-compete clause, the duration of which was not indicated in PVH’s filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He could conceivably continue to design or oversee the collections, or at the least make an appearance at future runway shows — but the likelihood of that happening was thrown into doubt by his demeanor on Friday. The designer could not be reached over the holiday weekend.
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