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Klein free of fashion fetters

London, Sept. 18: It was standing room only for Calvin Klein at New York Fashion Week as an era came to an end. The designer, one of the great icons of American fashion for more than 30 years, lounged against a back wall as the spring/summer 2004 collection that bears his name, was unveiled on Tuesday.

Klein sold his empire last year, for a reputed £260 million, and up to £196 million in royalties, to Phillips-Van Heusen, and is now a consultant director to the business he founded in 1968.

A press release earlier in the week had announced a 34-year-old Brazilian, Francisco Costa, as the new design director for Calvin Klein womenswear.

Klein said of Costa, who has worked alongside him for a year: “He’s carrying the torch. He’s good. That’s why I picked him.”

Later, at a dinner he hosted, Klein tried to explain his emotions as he had watched another designer step into his shoes. “I don’t really know what I was feeling. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t surprised. I just wanted it to be good. And it was.”

Klein, who is 61 in November, admitted to a feeling of relief at finally being able to escape the relentless pressure of the fashion jungle. “I’m still involved. I haven’t left,” he said. “But I don’t have constant day-to-day stress. It’s nice to have the time to do other things at my leisure.”

Klein’s new role will be to oversee “the big picture issues” such as advertising and the development of the brand. The Klein legend was born when the chic department store, Bonwit Teller, bought his first collection. He became famous as the exponent of sleek US minimalism, career-wardrobe sportswear and clothes for the urban, unisex life-style.

He launched his first designer label jeans featuring the then 15-year-old Brooke Shields and the unforgettable tag-line “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins”, setting off a designer jeans feeding-frenzy.

In 1972, he conquered the underwear market with boxers and briefs, featuring his name on the waistband elastic, kick-starting an inner-city trend which continues to this day. He entered the fragrance market in the 1980s, with Obsession and Eternity and the unisex perfume cK One.

Francisco Costa, who as a teenager used to pin on his bedroom wall pictures of Brooke Shields in Calvin Klein jeans, promised a “quiet evolution, not a revolution” for the brand.

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