By  on August 28, 2007

LAS VEGAS — Richard Cohen, the previous chief executive officer of St. John who made his mark building the Ermenegildo Zegna North America business into a powerhouse men's luxury label, has taken a partnership stake in Robert Talbott Inc., and will serve as president and ceo of the California-based brand.

Cohen had been consulting with Talbott for the past year.

Company owner and chairman Robb Talbott, son of founders Robert and Audrey Talbott, has decided to remove himself from the day-to-day running of the business to concentrate on his successful vineyard business, Talbott Vineyards. Talbott will continue as chairman.

In an exclusive interview here during the MAGIC trade show, Cohen said that when Robb Talbott offered him the opportunity to be a partner, he was excited about the prospects for the business and signed on two days ago.

""I think the opportunity for Robert Talbott is huge," he said. "It's an untapped brand, its name is pure, it hasn't been licensed and there are opportunities both domestically and internationally." Noting that it's a brand that "is not broken," Cohen said he believes he can double the size of the business within three to fi ve years. He declined to provide a current volume fi gure for the Carmel, Calif.-based brand.

Talbott is known for its highquality dress shirts and neckwear and recently branched out into sportswear. It also operates a women's division, Audrey Talbott, which represents 10 percent of the company's sales. Robert Talbott also operates four company-owned retail stores.

"There are very few American luxury brands," Cohen said, "and we should hold our heads high against our Italian friends. It will be fun competing against them."

Cohen said that to compete against "the big boys," Talbott will present a "more succinct" message, and will strive to "tell a story with a unique point of view."

Although the brand is carried primarily in independent specialty stores as well as Nordstrom — Saks Fifth Avenue started carrying the men's wear this fall — Cohen is hoping to expand Talbott's reach. "We want to maintain our specialty store aura, but when you do business with Nordstrom, Saks and hopefully [Neiman Marcus], it pushes your brand to the next level."

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