By  on May 13, 2009

NEW YORK — Kenneth Cole New York’s catchy new spring campaign slogan — “The future is about to be redressed” — could just as well refer to the company itself.


A year after hiring Jill Granoff as chief executive officer of Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., Cole is ready to make his next big move in the ongoing strategy to position the $492 million firm for growth. Today, the company will name Ingo Wilts as creative director, a newly created role, effective Aug. 1. Wilts joins from Hugo Boss, where he designed women’s and men’s wear and accessories as senior vice president and creative director of Boss Black, Boss Selection and Boss Green. He will report to Cole.

Cole, who founded the footwear and apparel company in 1982, will continue to serve as chairman and chief creative officer, and is expected to become even more of a brand ambassador, setting the overall tone for the brand.

Wilts will be in charge of design and visual merchandising of all product classifications at Kenneth Cole New York and Kenneth Cole Reaction. His hire will allow Cole to focus on the bigger picture and devote more time to social initiatives such as the nonprofit Awearness Fund, which he created in 2007 to raise awareness of social issues such as AIDS and homelessness. Cole, well-known for his humanitarian efforts, is also chairman of amfAR, and a founding board member of HELP USA, among other initiatives.

Since joining the company last year from Liz Claiborne Inc., where she was executive vice president of direct brands, Granoff has worked closely with Cole to develop a strategic platform, and the appointment of a creative director is just one of several initiatives to prepare for a future expected to look significantly different once the recession ends.

“The industry is changing in some very profound ways,” Cole said. “I don’t think the customer is going to go back to shopping the way [he or she] has shopped before, so you have to be very clear. You will get a chance to tell your story and you have to tell it in a very concise and compelling way, and I think that there is an opportunity to evolve the business model today.

“We are very focused on executing better, testing better and reacting more efficiently,” he added. “It requires a quick point of view. It requires certain levels of distribution that you’re in, and a comprehensive sourcing structure.”

Since its founding, Kenneth Cole has grown into a diversified business, with labels such as Kenneth Cole New York, Reaction and Unlisted, across various price points and product categories in apparel, footwear, fragrance and accessories.

Under Granoff, the company reorganized its management teams. Key hires over the past 12 months included president of wholesale Chris Nakatani; senior vice president of human resources Danesha Dixon Smith; senior vice president and chief marketing officer Kristen Dykstra, and now Wilts.

Wilts joined Boss as a designer of men’s sportswear in 1997, but left in 1999 to design men’s sportswear at Joop in Hamburg. He returned to Boss in September 2000and rose to one of the top jobs in the Metzingen, Germany-based firm. That experience, Cole said, made him the perfect candidate for the position. The search for a creative director was conducted by Karen Harvey Associates.

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