TODD GOES DEUTSCH
Byline: Janet Ozzard, with contributions from Katherine Weisman, Paris
NEW YORK — “More fun, glamour, sex and a younger image.”
That’s what Todd Oldham, downtown designer, Paper magazine cover model, and MTV style reporter will bring to the Escada Group, according to Wolfgang Ley, chairman of the Munich-based apparel giant.
Ley said Tuesday that Oldham has signed a three-year agreement with the company to work as creative consultant. Oldham will work with the existing 18-member design team to develop direction, color and prints for the Escada Margaretha Ley and Escada Couture collections. His influence will first be seen in the fall 1995 collection.
“We have prepared two different press releases to announce Oldham’s new position,” said Ley in a phone interview from the company’s headquarters in Munich. “For our German-speaking countries, who don’t know who Todd Oldham is, we describe him as one of the most talented young designers of the Western Hemisphere.”
He’s also very energetic.
Oldham just opened his first signature store here in SoHo, and is working on signing a lease for another in Los Angeles. He designs several collections a year for his signature designer and better-price Times 7 lines, produces a segment for MTV’s “House of Style” program once a month, is launching a perfume in March and negotiating a legwear license.
But the new job, the 32-year-old designer said, “is not a problem. It’s the cherry on top of everything else.”
“I surrendered my days off,” Oldham said Tuesday. “I like traveling, I like going to Europe, and the people at Escada have been great.”
Oldham comes into Escada at a difficult point in the company’s design history. Michael Stolzenburg, who had been Escada’s design director for two years, died two weeks ago after a long illness. He had taken over from designer Margaretha Ley, wife of Wolfgang Ley, who was also a co-founder of Escada. Margaretha Ley died in 1991.
But Oldham and Wolfgang Ley stressed that this move is not to replace Stolzenburg, or to displace the current design team.
“There is no direct replacement of Michael,” Ley said. He explained that as Stolzenburg became sick, the design team under him was forced to become more independent. Each collection, like the Escada Margaretha Ley signature line, led by designers Brian Rennie and Karen Baker, has its own design heads and design teams, which have gained greater responsibilities.
“The spring 1995 Escada Margaretha Ley collection was done completely without Stolzenburg, and sales increased 15 percent compared with last year. And it’s up 25 percent for the U.S.,” Ley said.
Oldham will travel to Munich 12 times a year to provide ideas, and particularly to work with fabric and color.
“That’s where I’ll be most instrumental,” said Oldham. “The company is not broken. I’m not coming in to fix anything. The quality is so fine, and the technical possibilities are endless, in terms of placement prints and other things that our company, because of its size, can’t do. Escada has every major fabric house in the world at its beck and call.”
Oldham said that thinking of design in a global sense is a new venture for him. While his clothes are sold abroad, his business doesn’t approach the reach of Escada.
“It’s a global company that reaches to Asia, Europe, the Far East,” said Oldham. “It’s very different from my business here.”
The Todd Oldham business here, which sources say is worth between $10 and $15 million, is managed by partner Tony Longoria, and operated out of an office in a SoHo. Escada, on the other hand, is run out of a corporate complex in Munich — where Oldham admitted he kept getting lost — and had sales of $705 million last year.
There’s also a difference in design sensibility. Oldham’s clothes tend to be designed for the young, or young-at-heart, and include last season’s show-stopping sequin glamour gowns, as well as tiny suits made with wildly conflicting collages of prints. It seems a far cry from Escada’s sportswear and eveningwear.
Oldham admitted that designing with Escada’s “more mature customer” in mind is a new challenge, but he said he doesn’t see it as a conflict.
“I’m aware of their demographic and their age groups,” said Oldham. “I think I can merge cross-culture references and celebrate femininity, and maybe reach a new customer for them as well as pleasing the current one.”
In fact, Oldham’s job is not to change the Escada look, Ley said, but to continue its development and evolution.
“We wanted someone with new ideas and a brilliant mind who can add value to Escada,” Ley described. “He will give the Escada brand more fun, glamour, sex and a younger image.”
“It will be for our core customer,” said Ron Frasch, president of Escada USA Inc. “Don’t think for one minute that we’re walking away from her. Todd will add a spark to the collection, and maybe bring in some new customers.”
Although Oldham’s name will not appear on the label, Frasch said the idea of the designer making personal appearances for Escada is not out of the question.
“It’s kind of like a painting in motion,” he said. “We’re still working everything out.”
Ley added that Oldham’s creativity relative to color, fabric, print, yarn, ornamentation and finishes will complement Escada’s design philosophy.
Oldham will act as a consultant in the traditional sense, Ley said, and will not be fully responsible for design direction.
He added that the idea of working with an outside consultant wasn’t new to Escada. Ley said that he and Margaretha often discussed the importance of having international designers, not part of the Escada Group, give the group input on its collections.
Other news at Escada includes the recent appointment of Massimo Supancing to the Escada Group’s management board, responsible for international sales, marketing and distribution. Supancing, 34, was formerly with Gruppo GFT where he most recently ran several European subsidiaries. He joined the Group Tuesday.
The Escada Group’s financial year, which ends Oct. 31, is drawing to a close, but Ley could not disclose precise sales or profit estimates for the year, under new German disclosure law. He said, however, that operating results will increase between 30 and 40 million marks, or $19.4 million and $25.9 million, while consolidated sales are expected to be flat with last year.
For the year ended Oct. 31, 1993, Escada Group showed an operating loss of $16.9 million (29 million marks) at current exchange.
In fiscal 1993, the firm also posted an operating loss — 29 million marks, or $17.6 million — on sales of 1.16 billion marks, or $705 million. Gains from the sale of St. John Knits, however, gave the group a net profit of 14 million marks, or $8.5 million.
Escada AG, the Escada company operating in Germany, posted an operating profit of $7 million (12 million marks) in 1993, against 4 million marks a year earlier.