Anne Klein was born Hannah Golofski on 3 August 1923 in Brooklyn, New York. She was educated at the Girls’ Commercial High School in Brooklyn and the Traphagen School of Design in New York. From the age of fifteen she worked as a freelance fashion sketcher, eventually landing a full-time job for Varden Petites. She married Ben Klein in the early 1940s and together they founded Junior Sophisticates, a company that transformed the type of clothes aimed at younger (or “junior size”) women by infusing their designs with a more sophisticated, less frilly look. By doing away with the “buttons and bows” girlish trend that epitomized most junior clothing and replacing it with more streamlined options that were eminently affordable, Anne Klein foreshadowed the major impact that her namesake company would have on women’s fashion in general.
By the 1950s, a typical Anne Klein design would feature a sheath shape, with evening clothes in sleek satin rather than tulle, and straight skirts rather than puffy crinolines. Her innovative suits featured blazers cut as peacoats, while her jacket-and-dress designs might feature a low-waisted dress with a pleated bottom paired with a simple matching jacket. As the head of her own fashion house by the 1960s, Anne Klein concentrated on a style of separates dressing that would revolutionize both day and evening wear, especially for working women. Her dress designs took their inspiration from elongated sweaters rather than the boxy, stiff shapes that were popular at the time, with a thoroughly modern eye toward clothing that a woman would be comfortable in while looking put-together and fashionable. Anne Klein and Co. was established in 1968, with an emphasis on mix-and-match separates in warm shades of neutral beiges and browns. After winning her first Coty Award in 1955, she went on to win a second one in 1969, a year she also received her second Neiman Marcus fashion award.
Many of the fashion trends considered emblematic of the 1970s were ushered in by Anne Klein: wrap-front coats, turtlenecks, trousers and—perhaps the most “freeing” of all—the bodysuit. A typical Anne Klein design of the time was a woolen bathrobe-shape wrap coat worn over a black turtleneck bodysuit under a black, zipper-front skirt. While also mindful of those women who still preferred hacking jackets and ruffle-edged blouses, the Anne Klein oeuvre spanned the range of looks that were transforming the look of fashion in the early 1970s. Her slinky jersey evening dresses were especially remarkable in an era defined by yards and yards of tulle, satin, and lace.
By 1972, Klein had adopted the lion’s face, said to be her astrological sign, as her trademark. She had also developed the Anne Klein II collection, the first so-called “bridge line,” which is defined as a fashion line with a price point under the main designer line but with a quality still above those items considered “better” women’s fashion. When Klein died of breast cancer in 1974 at the age of fifty, her assistants Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio, best friends from the Parsons School of Design, inherited the mantle of head designers. Dell’Olio and Karan improved the quality of fabrics substantially, favoring cashmere, imported silks, and hand-embroidered fabrics that led to some garments selling in the four-figure range. The pale pink cashmere blazer they showed in 1985 became one of the biggest success stories of the decade (and was a marked contrast, but perfect complement to, their usual neutral color palette), with a corresponding lower-priced version in pale pink wool setting sales records for Anne Klein II and spawning copycat designs for years afterward. Later that year, the Takihyo company, which owned roughly 25 percent of Anne Klein and Co., decided to back Donna Karan in the launch of her own company, Donna Karan New York, and their long collaboration came to an end. The success of the Anne Klein collection didn’t stop there, however; under Dell’Olio’s design leadership, the company grew by 50 percent within three years, with sales growing in clothing, accessories, and bathing suits, many emblazoned with the founder’s famed lion logo.
In 2001, Charles Dolan was hired to redesign the look of the Anne Klein collection in a more up-to-date style. By 2003, Dolan had left and the company was bought by the Jones Group, a holding company for Jones Apparel, Kasper, Joan and David shoes, and Rachel Roy clothes among others. The company has continued the tradition of American sportswear created by its eponymous founder, paying homage to one of the first designers to recognize that dressing for work didn’t mean dressing like a man, and that separates could be as suitable for the office as they were for the most formal evening occasion.
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