By  on July 2, 2009

Thom Browne has tapped Josh Sparks as president and chief executive officer, succeeding Tom Becker, who exited the company in April. The designer men’s wear firm has also completed the first stage of a recapitalization plan, selling a minority share to Japan-based Cross Company, a manufacturer and specialty retailer.

Sparks was previously a vice president at the corporate advisory business of HL Group, a New York-based communications and strategic planning agency. Among his clients was Thom Browne, for whom he helped finalize the deal with Cross Company. Sparks’ first day is July 16.

“Josh is overwhelmingly capable, and I was looking for someone who knew how to strategically take us to the next level,” said Browne, chairman and designer of the company he founded in 2003.

Sparks, 35, was ceo of Australia-based Sass & Bide from 2002 to 2006, helping to grow that business from $4 million in sales to $30 million. He then founded consulting firm Rockwood Management Group, which he merged into HL Group this past December.

Sparks’ agenda at Thom Browne includes lowering its entry-level price points, signing licenses in key categories and significantly expanding the retail distribution.

“The business has not evolved to where it can be, and there are opportunities it has not been able to take advantage of,” noted Sparks of Thom Browne, which has garnered praise — and criticism — for its directional aesthetic, which emphasizes crisp tailoring and lean proportions. Despite all the buzz, the company remains small, with the collection distributed in just 45 wholesale accounts, in addition to one freestanding store in New York’s West Village.

The investment by Cross Company helps stabilize the firm’s shaky finances. Terms of the deal were not divulged, but Sparks said it was a “multimillion dollar” investment for a “relatively small minority share.” Thom Browne continues to seek additional investors, with Cross Company having a call option to acquire a larger — but still a minority — stake in the company.

Tokyo-based Cross Company is both a high-end apparel manufacturer and operator of about 200 multibrand boutiques, which sell a mix of designer and contemporary labels.

To broaden the brand’s appeal at retail, Sparks is planning to introduce price points 20 to 30 percent lower than what’s now available in Thom Brown collections, where suits start at about $2,800. “We want to be competitive with the European designer brands, which tend to have more elasticity in their pricing, whereas we have been more niche,” explained Sparks, who emphasized even the lower-priced suits would be full-canvas and retain the brand’s luxury appeal.

Sparks would like to expand distribution from its current 45 stores to about 150 to 200 stores over the next three years.

Thom Browne is also close to inking a deal for its first license, which Sparks said could be announced by next week. “Thom Browne has built an incredibly respected and aspirational brand and there are many opportunities to leverage that in licensing. But we want to carefully manage those opportunities and not rush into anything,” he noted.

Apart from his own label, Thom Browne designs collections for Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers and Moncler Gamme Bleu.

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