By  on October 24, 2005

NEW YORK — “On Jan. 31, they fire me,” Wolfgang Ley, Escada’s founder and chief executive officer of Escada AG, joked, sitting in the company’s Fifth Avenue flagship.

Ley, of course, was referring to the day next year when he officially steps down from his post and passes the baton to Frank Rheinboldt, who is the ceo of Escada Group’s Primera AG.

Ley, who founded Escada in 1976 with his late wife, Margaretha, isn’t saying auf Wiedersehen to the company, though. On Feb. 1, he will assume the role of creative chairman for the group, an ambassadorial role that will still require his involvement in the brand’s overall development and public image.

“I am in charge of building new collections, influencing the store layout and store design, scouting the world for new design talents, especially in Russia, India and China, and making sure that the message of the brand is consistent,” Ley said of his new responsibilities.

The change, he said, was voluntary. “I was 67 years old, and at the beginning of January, I was sitting in my office, thinking, ‘I have a contract until 2008 as ceo.’ I wanted to initiate the recruitment process.’”

Instead of going to headhunters, Ley created his own matrix of potential candidates and their characteristics, from ready-to-wear experience, entrepreneurial skills, experience of branded goods and international retail experience. Rheinboldt, who had successfully turned around Escada’s Primera business, which includes the Laurèl, Apriori and Cavita collections as well as the Biba retail chain, came out with most of the checks against his name.

“From an operating point, the company is profitable. We are growing,” Ley said, when asked why he didn’t wait out his term as ceo. And anyway, he feels his new role will serve the company just as well.

“I thought, ‘What is the biggest gap in the company?’” he said. “I know the DNA of the brand and I have built most of the markets. I can support the brand with my know-how of different cultures.”

He added that he will also work more closely on developing the advertising campaigns, pointing to the spring ads, which were photographed by Steven Meisel with 12 images featuring Linda Evangelista.

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