By  on August 25, 2011

NEW YORK — HMX Group — best known for men’s brands like Hickey Freeman and Hart Shaffner Marx — is putting a new spin on women’s.

Over the past year, HMX has been quietly revamping its women’s business, consisting of brands Exclusively Misook, Christopher Blue, Jag, Worn and Bobby Jones, which now operates as Clover by Bobby Jones. As part of the overhaul of its women’s business, HMX is also adding the licensed Ivanka Trump ready-to-wear collection, which will launch during the September market for a February introduction at retail.

The move mirrors the activity on the men’s side, which HMX is also rebuilding after S. Kumars Nationwide Ltd. bought a 90 percent stake in the former Hartmarx business, taking its operations out of bankruptcy.

“When we bought the company out of bankruptcy in August 2009, most people didn’t even realize that it was both a men’s and women’s company,” said HMX Group chief executive officer Doug Williams. “A lot of the press and focus has revolved around us as a men’s wear company, when in reality we do over $60 million in wholesale sales in women’s wear. It’s a very substantive business.”

Women’s represents roughly 20 percent of HMX’s overall business. To revitalize and grow it, HMX brought in Eileen Sullivan, who had spent two decades in senior design roles at Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., and now serves as HMX’s senior vice president of women’s design. “We had these small, disparate businesses that were mostly founder-driven, and to move to the next level, we needed a stronger eye,” said Williams, who had worked with Sullivan at Polo for 17 years.

Sullivan, who reports to Joseph Abboud, HMX’s president and chief creative officer, said she has been expanding the scope of each collection and clarifying their individual points of view.

“I want to be able to hold up a Christopher Blue top and a Jag top and you know exactly which brand each belongs to,” Sullivan said. “You want to really build each individual brand so that it stands on its own.

“The first challenge for me was to work on the Misook brand, which needed some life,” the London native added. “The heritage of the brand is fantastic — travel knits you can throw in your washing machine when you are traveling, take them out and put them on — but there was nothing glamorous or sexy in it.”

Under Sullivan, the line has evolved to have a more fashionable point of view that is aimed at a slightly younger consumer. “The Misook customer tended to be a 60 to 65 year old, but with the new designs, we believe we bring in a younger customer that starts in their 30s and goes up into the 50s,” Williams said.

The denim Christopher Blue, Jag and Worn labels, meanwhile, primarily focused on bottoms, but Sullivan has expanded the lines into more rounded assortments.

“That was probably one of the biggest challenges in our women’s business,” Williams said. “It was always about one great product, versus allowing the brands to flourish as lifestyles.”

The Bobby Jones golf clothing line, too, was turned into a lifestyle collection for women and renamed Clover by Bobby Jones.

“The Bobby Jones name is very masculine, so it not only positioned the brand exclusively within the green grass market, it also really narrowed the focus of what the product could be,” Williams explained. “Bobby Jones the man was born on St. Patrick’s Day and always carried a four-leaf clover in his pocket whenever he played golf. We wanted to evolve the brand into Clover by Bobby Jones, which allows it to have a credibility on the golf course as well as in the resort and specialty store business that we really didn’t have.”

HMX’s newest launch, Ivanka Trump, aims to capture the spirit of the real estate heiress and television personality. Sullivan worked closely with Trump to develop the collection. “I told her I wold like to see the kinds of things she likes, her lifestyle, and what her passions are,” she said. “I said I want to see pictures of her and her husband spending the weekend together, so she sent me all these fabulous photographs that gave me an understanding that she was stylish and had confidence. She was a real person that just loves life.”

The duo developed a collection that embodied those values, culling inspirations from Trump’s existing jewelry, footwear and handbag lines, using prints that mimic some of the jewelry pieces and hardware from the bags. “When you are building a brand, you want to have that synergy,” Sullivan said.

“She loves scarves so I came up with the idea of doing these signature scarves that are either golden dragons and I worked her jewelry designs into the prints themselves,” Sullivan added. “We will have touches of coral and textured, flirtatious heritage dressing, and a little bit of sparkle where needed.”

Trump, who just gave birth to her first child, said that fashion was “a natural and organic extension” of the brand she has been building around her personality with jewelry, shoes, bags and outerwear.

“Apparel was the next and very important category for me,” Trump said. “I am looking to bring new voice to the space and create elegant timeless pieces that span generations, and have some fun in the process.

“I was very disciplined in my approach to finding the right partner and launching it at the right time with the top quality product that I am extremely pleased with,” she added. “I think it will pop on the floors on major department stores that we will be looking at as our primary points of distribution. It’s elegant. It’s feminine. It has a classical aspect to it. I think it’s very beautiful, I am very proud of it and I think I am going to have to get more closet space.”

The collection is positioned in the better category, with wholesale prices ranging from $29 to $90.

“We do see this very clear space in the better arena for something that is certainly more feminine, and a bit more fun, glamorous and playful — these are words we use when we describe the collection,” said Victoria Vandagriff, HMX’s executive vice president of women’s sales, who declined to disclose sales projections for the collection.

As for HMX, Williams didn’t rule out adding more collections, but maintained that the primary focus is on revitalizing the existing brands and building the Ivanka Trump business.

“I am always opportunistic,” he said. “If there is an opportunity that we can’t develop with what we have today, I will look at it. When I came in, women’s was about $40 million [in wholesale] and this year, it’s about $60 million,” Williams said. “I think just our women’s group alone will be in excess of $150 million of business in the next three years.”

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