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."Cohen said plans call for retaining the company's manufacturing facilities in Monterey, Calif., and the "goal is to sell 1 million ties out of there." Currently, Talbott produces about 600,000 pieces of neckwear in that facility. Other goals include launching an expanded women's collection within 18 months, exploring the international market, starting with Asia and then moving into "Anglo-Saxon Europe," and launching an in-store shop program while also looking into additional Robert Talbott stores.

Since Audrey Talbott died three years ago, the company has been operating under the direction of Robb Talbott and Jerome Politzer, who is leaving the company.

Cohen, who grew the Zegna business in North America from $13 million when he joined in 1986 to $200 million, said he had "worked for a few different families in my career and it's nice to be back with a family business with integrity, like the Zegnas."

Cohen also worked for a short time as head of St. John, but left after a rocky tenure about months ago and has been consulting since then. In addition to Talbott, Cohen has consulted with Nat Nast, a position he will retain.

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