Fashion Victim

updated 01/09/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

EVEN RICHARD TYLER—WITH HIS rock-star mane, hip Hollywood clientele (including Julia Roberts and Heather Locklear) and reputation for designing sexy, sophisticated clothes—knew he was an odd match for Anne Klein & Company, the manufacturer best known for its conservative career sportswear. "I keep thinking about what I'd gotten myself into," he said after he was made the company's head designer in May 1993. "You know, I'm not from Seventh Avenue."

In the end, that difference showed. On Dec. 19, Anne Klein (which gave Donna Karan her start) and Tyler, 47, announced they had parted ways after what once appeared to be a charmed relationship. Tyler had won two consecutive Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards (the first was for new talent; the second, to be presented Jan. 30, is for best womenswear designer). And the Australian-born Tyler seemed to have successfully responded to the company's request for a younger, more modern image by infusing its usual no-nonsense collections with everything from pink-satin hot pants to thigh-high jumpers.

But for all of Tyler's panache, his approach proved to be too much too soon: Though the New York-based company says sales of his collection doubled in his first year (after increasing some prices by 15 percent, jackets, for example, were selling for about $1,000), the fear was that its star designer was alienating loyal customers. The proof? In November, Tyler's spring show in New York City had failed to generate orders. "His long jackets and very short skirts are great if you're built like Linda Evangelista," says industry-observer Alan Millstein, "but Anne Klein has been geared toward aging boomers with lots of money and cellulite. The bottom line is that their customer couldn't fit into his clothes."

But don't cry for Tyler (named one of PEOPLE'S Fresh Faces of 1994), who will be replaced by Patrick Robinson, for the past five years a designer for Giorgio Armani. Tyler, who replaced Louis Dell'Olio, the 18-year Klein veteran who was dumped to make way for the Aussie phenom, will walk off with a reported $2.1 million buyout of his contract. He will most likely return full-time to the Hollywood Hills mansion he shares with wife and business partner Lisa Trafficante and son Edward, 1. His eponymous L.A.-based women's line isn't expected to suffer any fallout, and Tyler plans to add a line of menswear. "He's not hurting," says Millstein. "After all, Seventh Avenue changes designers like Steinbrenner changes managers."

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