He is one of Seventh Avenue's top designers. But you won't catch him lunching at New York's glamour restaurants. A tuna sandwich at his desk is more like it.
The woman next door covets his clothes. So do celebrities whose first names telegraph instant recognition: Oprah and Candice. Yet his name is not as well known as Ralph's (as in Lauren) or Calvin's (as in Klein).
He is Louis Dell'Olio, the designer behind the Anne Klein label. At 42 he is one of the most influential designers in America, presiding over a fashion empire that accounts for some $600 million a year in retail sales.
Besides the high-end Anne Klein designer sportswear, Dell'Olio oversees Anne Klein II, Anne Klein dresses, and more than 20 licensees making accessories bearing the Anne Klein lion's head logo.
Dell'Olio supervises Anne Klein II with two co-designers. Launched in 1983 as a bridge between designer sportswear and career-girl fashions, it offers the clean, classic shapes Dell'Olio is known for at prices working girls can afford. Jackets cost about $300 instead of the $650 to $800 for one of his designer jackets.
Also grabbing his attention are the new Anne Klein retail stores. Selling under one roof everything that Dell'Olio designs, 10 stores are being rolled out over the next five years. One opened in Minneapolis a year ago, and one has just opened in Manhasset, N.Y.
None of this success has gone to Dell'Olio's head. He's the most regular guy you could meet. His work uniform is hardly a fashion statement: chinos, beige bucks and a white shirt, sleeves rolled up and buttons straining over an ample stomach.
Backstage at a recent fashion show, amid some of America's most gorgeous cover girls in various stages of undress, the Brooklyn-born Dell'Olio looks like a stagehand who wandered in by mistake. But from the way Linda Evangelista and the other models respond, it's clear who is in charge. The models love him. So do his customers.
"Louis' clothes are stylish without being too high fashion," says Jennifer Aubrey Jacobs, the stylist who dresses Oprah Winfrey for TV. Winfrey wore Dell'Olio's clothes when she was a size 14 and a size 8.
Skinny or fat, tall or short--all women look good in his clothes. A masterful tailor, Dell'Olio cuts to show off assets and hide flaws.
"I like clothes that make a statement but don't scream," says Dell'Olio. "Women don't want to be unsure of themselves. Even if they have the best bodies in the world--and I hear it from the models all the time--everyone has her insecurities. Women want to wear something that makes them confident."
Betty Furness owns two dozen Anne Klein collection jackets. The consumer reporter, at age 74 one of TV's longest-running fashion plates, says Dell'Olio's designs are "very today without being imposing. I don't want to kill people with my clothes. I want them to think about what I'm saying."
Joan Collins wears Anne Klein. So do Kathleen Sullivan and Cher and Candice Bergen, both as herself and TV's Murphy Brown.
"Louis is a fantastically talented designer in a well-rounded sense," says Jessica Mitchell, vice president and fashion director of designer sportswear for Saks Fifth Avenue.
Yet Dell'Olio as fashion news is often taken for granted. Perhaps it's because he doesn't wine and dine fashion editors.
"I'm not that good at it. I'm not that social," he confesses.
Dell'Olio's pure, modern shapes are all-American. Yet some fashion observers like to think he takes cues from Italy's Giorgio Armani. Never mind that Dell'Olio conceives his designs months before Armani's models hit the runways.
"Because American designers show their collections after the Europeans, people are a little too quick to judge," he says. "It takes nine months to do a fall collection. To get written off by being compared to Europe is a little annoying."
Dell'Olio started with Anne Klein & Co. in 1974 when Parsons school chum Donna Karan sought him out. She needed help following the death of Klein, who pioneered the idea of American designer sportswear. Karan and Dell'Olio shared designing duties until 1984, when Karan left to launch her own company. In the six years Dell'Olio has been on his own, Anne Klein sales have more than doubled.
He got his first taste of fashion's glamour during a summer job with the late Norman Norell. Asked to fetch coffee for a client, he entered the dressing room to find Lauren Bacall wearing nothing but her underwear and a smile.
While Dell'Olio likes to see his designs on celebrities, he gets more excited seeing them on the legions of ordinary souls. When he spots a woman on the street looking great in a Dell'Olio, he stops. "I think, 'How fabulous.' " Other times he has to restrain himself from rushing over to adjust a collar or fix a shoulder.
"I'm not just interested in dressing the celebrity of the moment," he says. "I love all women. That's what makes it fun."