However much we may love the retro, perfectly coordinated ensembles worn by the ladies of Mad Men, it’s likely none of us can actually envision dressing like Peggy for a day at the office. Or like Betty for an afternoon of doctor appoint ments and lunch dates. Back then, designers created clothing with headtotoe outfits in mind—and most women bought, and wore, them that way. Until, that is, the late 1960s, when American sports wear designer Anne Klein first liberated women from matchy matching our hats and gloves to our shoes and dresses. With her very first collection, Klein proved that every season needn’t be a rebirth; in fact, spring’s peacoat would look equally good with fall’s trouser and that silk blouse you bought three years ago.
Photo: Courtesy of Anne Klein
More than 40 years later, Anne Klein is back in the spotlight and more relevant than ever. For fall 2012, new VP and creative director Jeff Mahshie set out to follow the classic Anne Klein philosophy of dressing in an effortless, sleek and wholly essential way; everything old is new again. “The idea of building and updating your wardrobe and having it be interchangeable was a concept introduced by Anne Klein,” says Mahshie. “That’s our heritage.”
Mahshie came to Anne Klein earlier this year from Lord & Taylor. With predecessors including Klein’s personal protégée Donna Karan, who famously dropped out of Parsons to work for the company, and, more recently, Richard Tyler and Isabel Toledo, he’s got some very big shoes to fill.
Louis Dell’Olio and Donna Karan in 1980
Photo: Rose Hartman/Getty Images
Of course, this is a brand that’s proud of its roots, and Mahshie is tasked with preserving the legacy of Klein—a charter member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and one of five American designers to show at Versailles before she died of breast cancer in 1974—while moving the brand forward. For inspiration, he turned to the Anne Klein archives. Fall’s Leo dress is at least partially inspired by the iconic Anne Klein lion logo, which the original designer based on her astrological sign, as well as a riff on a shirtdress discovered in the archives by Jones Group chief creative officer Stefani Greenfield, whom Mahshie cites as a brand muse. (“She’s powerful, smart, strong, a mother—everything,” he says.) As a whole, the collection fuses old and new, an appreciation of the past with a nod to the present. Other key looks include sleek sheaths, ladylike silk blouses and trim pantsuits that Mahshie dubs “the day-to-night tuxedo,” all of it chic and well tailored. “A clean line,” says Mahshie, “is inherently powerful.”
And even though this is classic American sportswear, don’t expect Anne Klein’s reach to stay within our borders. Mahshie puts the brand’s future reach at a global level. And why not? Already, celebrities like The Good Wife star Julianna Margulies are turning up on the red carpet wearing original pieces mixed with new items from the collection. Anyone else hear the roar of a certain lion getting louder?