Kelly Klein, soon-to-be ex of Y-fronts Calvin, is the latest in a dynasty of trophy divorcees. But if she wants success in her new role, she must work very hard, says Ruth Picardie
In 1983, Kelly Rector was a 26-year-old design assistant for the New York fashion emperor Calvin Klein. Her mother had been a Vogue covergirl, her father directed commercials but Kelly, having been a promising junior showjumper and having dabbled in modelling, was going nowhere, not very fast. Luckily, in 1986, the boss asked her to marry him, and she jumped at the chance. He was rich, he was successful, he looked amazingly youthful for his age (43). Never mind the persistent rumour that her future husband's proclivities were not primarily heterosexual - at last she had a proper role in life, as a beautiful, blonde, size 10 trophy wife.

Ten years later, the couple are getting divorced, which is sad but by no means surprising - barely a season passes without a celebrity duo succumbing to the pressures of drugs, girls or jetlag. Luckily, the couple have no children whose feelings must be spared. "We are still the best of friends," they declared in a statement issued in New York. "We hope to work out any issues between ourselves."

For Calvin, business continues as usual: his growing network of stores; his expanding perfume range; all are booming nicely, and require his attention. But what will become of poor Kelly? A generation ago a woman like her would have quietly disappeared into her children and her settlement, or found herself another rich and powerful husband, like Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Today, however, Kelly is set to become one of the new breed of trophy divorcees, who hang on to the name and the alimony and build a career from there.

Kelly, having edited two glossy photography books, one on swimming pools and one on underwear, is now set to become a fashion photographer. She has already worked for Interview, Mirabella, Spanish Vogue; last summer she reached the giddy heights of photographing Christy Turlington for the cover of British Vogue.

Will she make it outside the backscratching circle of designer-model- magazine editor? For becoming a trophy divorcee is a perilous business, more difficult even than standing by your megalomaniac man. It is certainly a higher tightrope than trophy widowhood (Yoko Ono and the late Kathy Tynan) or the career-synergy relationship (Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant).

First, the trophy divorcee must make sure her future ex is a great brand. Struggling former Czech skiing champ Ivana Zelnickova chose well when she married Donald Trump in 1976. His name may be synonymous with the Eighties and flash, tacky conspicuous consumption, but if flash, tacky fashion and jewellery is your post-divorce business, sold exclusively on America's home shopping TV network, then it's one worth hanging on to. No wonder Ivana hasn't taken the name of her new husband, a rich but obscure building magnate named Riccardo Mazzucchelli.

At the same time, the successful ex must marry a man whose fame will last: who will remember Julia Carling and her former rugby star ex in five years time? Here we must admire the foresight of Bianca Perez Mora Macias, who blazed the trophy divorcee trail back in 1978. Who would have guessed that her ex-husband, Mick Jagger, would still be a street fighting man in his fifties? "Do you know how difficult it has been for me to emerge from within this extraordinary, massive and overpowering reputation?" the socialite turned street-fighting Mother Teresa implored the Independent On Sunday last year. "I was weighed down by who I had become." Still, the burden ensured that the pre-interview lunch took place at the most fashionable restaurant in Manhattan. "This is Bianca Jagger," she informed the maitre d'. "Can I have a table for two?"

Next, the fame and success of the trophy divorcee must not eclipse that of her ex; if she flies too high, he will use his power to bring her down. Poor Diana Spencer evidently forgot this principle when she chose a great brand name (Windsor) and a hitherto stable industry (royalty) but then became the most popular woman in the world, half angel, half babe. It remains to be seen what kind of role her ex-husband's firm will allow her to retain: already, she has been forced to abandon most of her angel work.

Finally, of course, the trophy divorcee must truly be a trophy - or turn herself into one. Ivana was rebuilt by plastic surgeons; Princess Diana threw up her puppy fat and now works out; Bianca was born that way. Alas, poor Fergie is struggling in her post-divorce career. It is not that helicopter books won't sell, but that the public won't buy them from big-boned girls with ginger hair.

So will Kelly Klein make it as a trophy divorcee? She has a great start, in that her soon-to-be ex husband is a brand name, worth $2bn a year. Men and women from Singapore to Seattle begin the day by dabbing themselves with CK One and pulling on their Calvin Klein knickers and Calvin Klein jeans.

Will the name last? Calvin Klein has marketing in his seams; his success has always been a triumph of style (and press coverage) over content. His jeans became a best-seller after he put 15-year-old Brooke Shields on billboards with the words, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." His Y-fronts became a byword for desire after he stripped the rap singer Marky Mark to the bare and bulging minimum. He launched Obsession using an emaciated, near-naked, soon-to-be supermodel called Kate Moss.

His beige clothes for all-American women, by contrast, used wholesome, glossy, Waspy (her ex-husband is Jewish) Kelly as their model: fashion bible Women's Wear Daily accompanied the couple on the wedding in Rome. (The bride wore Calvin Klein). The Eternity fragrance was named after the ring Prince Edward gave to Wallis Simpson and then Calvin bought for Kelly; Escape (yet another perfume) was launched as the couple bought a much-photographed Long Island "retreat". "The Eighties are over," said Calvin a couple of years ago, by which time his wife had become an icon of classic American style, "and everything associated with that lifestyle. The excess and the luxury don't feel right any more. I'm still doing what I've always stood for: modern, minimal, pure."

If the Klein marriage is over because, as gossip suggests, it was, in effect, an amicable 10-year contract to beige out his reputation as the decadent king of Studio 54, then Calvin no doubt has another model waiting in the wings. Will Bruce Weber be taking the photographs, as usual? Odds are that Kelly will be there instead, camera in hand. "I am Calvin's muse," she told the New York Times in 1992. "He designs everything for me. I happen to be very American, look very American. That helps, to fit right into his sense of design and style. I love him. I love everything he does. He's just the best guy in the world. I never felt threatened by his success and fame. I've only learnt from it."