Fashion: Cut out for stardom: Eat your heart out, Armani - Angelica now wears Richard Tyler. Richard who? Marion Hume and Roger Tredre find out

BEHOLD the man most likely to become fashion's next international star. The designer tipped to make a rare addition to the super-league - up there with Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein - creates strong, modern tailoring. But unlike Giorgio and Calvin, this new name isn't sleek. Richard Tyler is an Australian who likes beer and cricket and sports 'old rocker' shaggy hair.

Even in fashion, then, appearances are not everything. Tyler, who started off in Melbourne with a shop called Zippidy-Doo-Dah and moved to Los Angeles to dress Rod Stewart in leopard prints, has just signed up one of the industry's biggest deals, a contract to design for the Anne Klein company, which has an annual turnover of dollars 450m.

The contract is not only lucrative, it is significant. Twenty five years ago, an unknown called Donna Faske joined Anne Klein (who died in 1974). Ms Faske married Mark Karan, was fired, re-hired and eventually fired again in 1985, but only so that Anne Klein's multi-million-dollar backers could then force her into designing her own line. The Donna Karan company, which is about to go public, had a sales volume of pounds 270m in 1990.

Richard Tyler already has his own label, which he will keep on while designing the Klein lines: Anne Klein, Anne Klein II and A Line. In Britain, stores such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Browns have all had their eye on Tyler for some years, despite the fact that he is based in LA, nowhere-land to fashion people.

It is, however, somewhere-land to movie people, to whom Tyler's Art Deco Beverly Boulevard store has become a mecca to stars with taste. He attracts those who don't see baubles, beads and glittering gilded bust-cups from Gianni Versace or Bob Mackie as synonymous with success. He also attracts those who doubt whether Giorgio Armani's less-is-more philosophy is quite enough for the paparazzi flashbulbs.

Tyler's middle way has won him Sigourney Weaver, Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Annie Lennox, as well as Madonna and Janet Jackson for their quieter moments. His menswear appeals to kd lang and Julia Roberts (who would have worn a Tyler wedding gown if she had gone ahead and married Keifer Sutherland. She paid for it anyway.) It has also won him the patronage of Hollywood's ultimate, her high elegance, Angelica Houston, a convert from Armani who wore Tyler both to the Oscars and to her almost as high-profile wedding party.

Designers often have life stories the rags-to-riches vein. In delightful contrast, the tale of Richard Tyler is a love story. It was 1987. He was in LA with high-voltage designs for Rod Stewart and Diana Ross under his belt, but so short of cash that he was planning to go back to Australia. Then he went to a party, fell in love at first sight, married Lisa Trafficante who joined him and, along with her sister, Michelle, turned Richard Tyler into a business.

The Richard Tyler store opened in LA in 1988. But it took New York's Seventh Avenue, the heart of the US clothing trade, a long time to notice. 'It was tough for us,' admits Tyler. 'Out of sight, out of mind.'

Free of fashion scrutiny, Tyler found space to grow. He already knew, unlike most designers, how to sew skilfully; his mother had taught him and he had trained as a men's tailor. Consequently he expected high standards in others and established a factory of exceptional quality, putting seamstresses and tailors, most of whom are Chinese, through stringent tests before hiring them. 'Most come from Shanghai, southern China and Hong Kong; they're very patient and meticulous. We manufacture everything ourselves. We don't contract out one single thing,' says Tyler with quiet pride.

The clothes thmselves are a dream. A glance along the rails of the LA shop reveals body- conscious tailoring as well as silky, summery viscose crepes. Jackets, which are exquisite inside and out, come soft and fluid or band-box striped with angular cuffs and fit-and-flare trousers. Jetted pockets, button holes and collars are stitched by hand.

Designer clothes, at designer prices, should always be beautifully made, but often they are not. Tyler's designs are, though - partly because he feels he must be better than his rivals to confront the industry's reluctance to believe that an Australian could make top-notch clothes.

The sting is that Tyler's clothes are extremely expensive, with suits typically selling for at least dollars 1,500. Tyler's Anne Klein lines will be a little more accessible, with jackets selling for about pounds 250 in Harvey Nichols, but we shall have to wait until next spring for them.

In the meantime, some of Tyler's pieces for this summer, photographed in Los Angeles, illustrate the laid-back flavour of his designs. Laid back does not describe the man himself, though, as he works fiendishly hard. Last week he went to Europe to buy fabrics; this week he is in New York to get acquainted with his new team. He admits to being nervous, but thrilled as well. 'I know it won't be a walk in the park, but I'm not complaining. It's a dream come true.'

(Photographs omitted)

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