NEW YORK — Tommy Hilfiger stepped down Tuesday as chairman of the firm that bears his name, passing the reins to Joel Horowitz, who currently is the outgoing chief executive and president.

Hilfiger will resume his longtime role as honorary chairman and principal designer. Horowitz, in a statement, said the search for his successor as ceo would continue. A spokeswoman said he is expected to continue as chairman once a new ceo is found.

Neither Hilfiger nor Horowitz was available for comment, but the appointment of Horowitz comes as somewhat of a surprise. In announcing his plans to leave as president and ceo, Horowitz had indicated his desire to wind down his day-to-day involvement in the business while remaining a director.

After assuming the position of chairman in October, Hilfiger undertook an analysis of long-term strategic and management issues facing the firm. "As part of that process, we considered the most effective way to continue the successful long-term partnership between Joel Horowitz and myself," said the designer in the statement. "I came to realize the company would be better served by each of us focusing on the work that best plays to our strengths and passions."

For Hilfiger, that means focusing on the creative aspects of the business such as design and marketing, while Horowitz zeroes in on governance and strategic planning.

And Horowitz got right down to it.

"The apparel industry is facing many challenges but we have the building blocks to move ahead with a strong global brand, an excellent cash position and numerous opportunities to extend our reach worldwide," noted Horowitz.

The newly minted chairman laid out three priorities. The first two include continuing efforts to improve operations and pay down debt. Thirdly, Horowitz noted, "We will continue to seek opportunities to further diversify our revenue and earnings base. We will move thoughtfully, but with appropriate speed."

Last month, the firm laid out plans to start selling Tommy Hilfiger products in South Korea and Australia, through licensing agreements.

The corner-office shift marks the close of another chapter in what has been a period of significant change for the firm. First, Lawrence Stroll resigned as Hilfiger’s co-chairman in July, leaving Silas Chou at the helm. Then Hilfiger stepped up to replace Chou, who removed himself from consideration for reelection as chairman at the company’s annual meeting.Stroll and Chou, through their company Sportswear Holdings Ltd., struck deals to acquire a controlling stake of Michael Kors LLC from three of its minority partners. The duo also own the British luxury brands Asprey & Garrard.

Also, the Hilfiger company said that David Tang was appointed as an independent director at a board meeting Monday. He replaces Simon Murray, who resigned. Tang is the founder of several businesses, including Shanghai Tang stores, and will serve as a member of the board’s audit and compensation committees.

The firm also affirmed its commitment to having a majority of independent directors in the near future.

Tommy Hilfiger reports its third-quarter fiscal results today.

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