By  on September 25, 2008

Lacoste USA has recruited former Kellwood Co. chief Robert C. Skinner Jr. as its new chairman and chief executive officer, confirming a WWD report this week.

Skinner, 54, will replace Robert Siegel, 71, who is retiring at the end of the year, after seven years at Lacoste.

Siegel served with Skinner on Kellwood’s board from October 2007 until February 2008, when Sun Capital Partners Inc. took over the long-suffering Chesterfield, Mo.-based vendor. The private equity firm replaced Skinner in July with Michael Kramer, former Abercrombie & Fitch Co. chief financial officer and executive vice president.

“I saw Bob under extremely difficult conditions, and I thought he was very mature and objective,” Siegel said. “There were some really challenged brands in that company, and I think Bob will love working with one great brand instead of many brands.”

As corporate group vice president of Oxford Industries Inc. from 1998 to 2000 and president of its Oxford Shirt Group from 1987 until 2000, when he joined Kellwood, Skinner has men’s wear experience that will cater well to Lacoste, which does about two-thirds of its U.S. business in men’s. But Kellwood also gave Skinner the women’s experience that he thinks could help Lacoste grow its women’s business to be equal to men’s.

“In total, the women’s market is twice the size of the men’s market, and I think we could grow women’s to be as much as men’s,” said Skinner Wednesday.

At about $320 million, Lacoste USA is a far smaller business than the $2 billion Kellwood. But with the 75-year-old Lacoste, Skinner gets a far healthier company than his previous stomping ground. While at Kellwood, Skinner’s goal was to shift the predominantly moderate firm into more high-end, higher-margin businesses and into retail, but acquisitions like Vince weren’t enough to turn the company around before it was taken over in February.

“I think of myself as a brand builder,” said Skinner.

Siegel drove expansion in his six years at Lacoste, growing it more than tenfold from the less than $30 million wholesale business he inherited in January 2002. By 2009, Lacoste USA will have 70 boutiques and 14 outlets.

Based in New York, Skinner will report to Christian Rondelet, managing director of distribution for Devanlay SA, the Paris-based holder of the worldwide manufacturing and distribution license for Lacoste apparel, which is owned by the Swiss retailer Maus Frères International Services S.A.S. Maus Frères through Devanlay also owns 35 percent of Lacoste SA, with 65 percent owned by the Lacoste family.

Siegel will become a non-executive member of Devanlay USA’s board, in addition to his board roles for Edun, Bono and Ali Hewson’s brand, and the pet company Harry Barker Inc.

Before Lacoste, Siegel was managing director at Kurt Salmon Associates Inc., chairman and ceo at Stride Rite Corp. and ceo of Levi Strauss & Co., where he launched Dockers in 1986.

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