By  on June 13, 2006

MILAN — Jil Sander AG has tapped Balenciaga executive Michele Sodi to be president of Jil Sander America, a new position.

Sodi will oversee the brand's wholesale and retail business in North America and will be based in New York. He starts on Monday and will report to Jil Sander chief executive Gian Giacomo Ferraris, who was a colleague when they worked at Gucci Group.

Sodi's priorities will be to balance out the brand's wholesale and retail presence and help the company double the size of its U.S. business to 50 million euros, or $63 million at current exchange, in five years, Ferraris said in an interview.

"I could see [Sodi's] experience on the American market ... and how he could build a strong relationship with clients and develop the market," Ferraris said.

Sodi replaces Tina Goldberg, who left the brand about two months ago for personal reasons. She oversaw the North American business, but her title was vice president and managing director. Ferraris stressed that he will fully delegate strategic and organizational responsibilities to Sodi. "This is the real change," he said.

U.K.-based investment fund Change Capital Partners bought Jil Sander from Prada Holding N.V. in February and is working to restore the brand to profitability. Ferraris said the U.S. and Far East markets will generate the bulk of growth.

Last year, U.S. sales totaled 25 million euros, or $31.3 million at average exchange, or 19.2 percent of Jil Sander's total revenue. Wholesale accounts, including Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, account for about 80 percent of the brand's U.S. sales, Ferraris said, noting he wants to see a shift toward more retail sales.

Jil Sander has two directly operated freestanding stores in the U.S. in New York and Chicago. Ferraris said it was premature to discuss the retail strategy and new store openings until Sodi starts work.

A Jil Sander spokesman said that Sodi was declining interview requests. "He prefers not to speak before he really starts to work," the spokesman said.

Sodi joined Balenciaga in 2002 as U.S. president. Prior to that, he founded and directed marketing and distribution strategy company Fuel. Sodi, who holds Italian and U.S. citizenship, also has held posts at Helmut Lang and Onward Kashiyama. At Kashiyama, he oversaw the U.S. distribution of designer brands including Helmut Lang Jeans, Alexander McQueen, Tocca and Paul Smith.

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