SAN FRANCISCO--Scott Bowman, the new chief executive officer at I. Magnin, has a lot of explaining to do. Since being tapped by R.H. Macy & Co. last month to head the upscale specialty division, based here, Bowman has found himself battling a barrage of rumors. None have been very kind to the 118-year-old store or to the 37-year-old ceo. He's portrayed as a caretaker for a chain that could be totally liquidated, but he says there are many changes in the works to pump up its core designer offerings, and make much of the selling space more distinctive. Bowman plans to eliminate some smaller resources and devote more space to the heavy hitters, including Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. He also said he sees certain floors of the Union Square flagship becoming like mini-specialty stores, much like the Edge on Six has become a younger, hipper area, with more forward designers, accessories and cosmetics. Bridge shoes recently were broken out from the shoe area and given their own space close to bridge apparel, he noted. Accessories, he said, will get more prominent store displays and additional real estate in the stores. Accessories will also be given more space in I. Magnin's catalog. In addition, dresses will take a higher profile with more contemporary styles. They've done well in the catalog, Bowman said. "I. Magnin has to be the headquarters in all these businesses, whether it's Donna Karan in men's or women's or Calvin Klein or Giorgio Armani or maybe just in better sweaters," Bowman said, during his first interview since being named ceo last month. "It's going to be a very, very strong statement." Meanwhile, speculation has spread that a couple of the better sites, including Union Square and Beverly Hills, could be converted to Bloomingdale's, which is seeking locations on the West Coast. Bloomingdale's is a division of Federated Department Stores, which is merging with Macy's. Federated has not yet announced its plans for I. Magnin, and the merger, announced last month, has fueled speculation. The chain has been unprofitable for five years, and at one time reportedly was put on the market by Macy's. Bowman declined to comment about the merger and how it will affect Magnin's. He said the chain is stronger than it has been in years and is poised for a solid fall and spring. "I think whether you talk about I. Magnin or some of our competitors, there's been numerous rumors about all of us," Bowman said. "The best we can do is show we are a solid and focused business continuing to push for growth and profitability and market share." Volume last year at I. Magnin was about $290 million, and executives have said the store could make a profit on a seasonal basis next spring. "I. Magnin has suffered because Macy's has suffered," said Kathlyn Swantko, owner of Retail Marketing Services in Los Angeles. "Looking forward, the buyout can only bring strength to I. Magnin. They are anchor stores in major malls on the West Coast, and have a position in this market." Bowman has just four years under his belt at Macy's. He started as a vice president of merchandising at Macy's West for men's dress shirts, neckwear, basic furnishings, gifts, accessories and small leather goods. Later, he was promoted to group vice president and director of stores for Macy's West. He said he believed his career was at the Macy's West department store chain until Macy chairman Myron Ullman approached him this year to become I. Magnin's president and chief operating officer, succeeding Don Eugene. He was teamed with Joseph Cicio, Magnin ceo. When Cicio resigned last month, Bowman became ceo. "I'm very glad Mike [Ullman] gave me that opportunity because the Magnin organization is small enough that you can actually have a physical impact on every person in the organization," Bowman said. "You can see the fruits of your labor every day." Other Magnin officials said Bowman is tireless, sometimes putting in 80-hour weeks with no signs of fatigue. Ullman has repeatedly said there are no plans to sell or close I. Magnin. It has already been greatly pared down: Six stores were closed and two were opened last year. Bowman points to recent successes in the San Francisco flagship to underscore the store's viability and greater concentration on big-name designers. For example, he cited a two-day Chanel trunk show last week that rang up $600,000 in ready-to-wear and $173,000 in accessories. Last month, he said, a two-day Giorgio Armani trunk show, accompanying the launch of an Armani Black Label women's boutique, brought in $725,000 worth of orders. "We are coming off of a spring business where we are going to exceed our profit plans, which is a very strong improvement over the prior year. We have planned a significant improvement for fall," Bowman noted. He has already been involved in key changes at the store since February, when he became president. Working with Cicio, he set up a merchandise hotline to help sales associates locate merchandise in the store, and find items in different sizes and colors requested by customers that could be in stockrooms or other stores. "There are tremendous opportunities for growth in this business," Bowman said. "Over the last seven months, we have built a very strong plan to capture those opportunities. At this point, I don't see anybody else executing that plan except myself. I haven't gone through and asked what the long-term plans for myself are because my long-term plan is to lead I. Magnin back to the level of success that it's had historically. I have my eye on no other job. This is where I want to be."
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