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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Responding to inquiries from WWD, Tom Murry, president and chief executive officer of Calvin Klein, said in a statement that “Calvin will continue to play an important role in the design process.

“Calvin has always recruited top talent for each design studio and given them the freedom to create within his aesthetic,” Murry said. “We are very committed to the collection business and will continue to hold runway shows of the size and scope as in the past. Calvin will continue to be the design inspiration for the company. Not only is he contractually incented but he also very much wants to be. While Friday was the last show developed with Calvin as the owner, we are looking forward to Calvin’s involvement, and he and I are looking forward to seeing everyone at our next show.”

In his memo, Klein outlined several operational changes that will take place as a result of the transition from a privately held company — the only such American megabrand — to its ownership by the publicly traded PVH.

Most significantly, Klein said that the final word on all creative and product decisions will no longer be his, but will now go to Bruce Klatsky, chairman and chief executive officer of PVH; Mark Weber, its president and chief operating officer, and to Murry. Insiders said Klein will “come in when he is asked to come in,” but he will be turning over most of the design responsibilities to his staff, with Francisco Costa, design director of the women’s collection, obviously taking a pivotal role. Costa joined the company a year ago after working for Tom Ford at Gucci.

Word of the memo quickly got around to the Calvin Klein staff, which has been nervously anticipating the transition to PVH’s ownership and its plans to rapidly develop new mass-oriented collections, leading to at least two interpretations of what was happening.

Some employees felt the memo was meant to serve simply as a formal policy that would stop a long-standing practice at the house where employees would often look to Klein to override a senior executive’s veto of their idea for a design, marketing or advertising decision. The idea of the memo was to that it’s now Klatsky, Weber and Murry who call the shots. But others read into Klein’s writing that he was reflecting upon a final personal chapter of his career, because his fall collection was the last designed as an owner with the last word on hem length, color and print. They also noted that Klein’s career-long rival, Ralph Lauren, celebrated his 35th anniversary with an enormous amount of fanfare last year and that Klein preferred to play down his own 35th, which is this year.
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