NEW YORK — One of the fashion industry’s worst-kept secrets was finally confirmed Thursday when John D. Idol, chairman and chief executive officer of Kasper A.S.L., was named ceo of Michael Kors (USA) Inc., effective Dec. 2.
Idol will become a partner in the firm along with Silas Chou, Michael Kors and Lawrence Stroll. He will oversee day-to-day operations and will be responsible for the substantial growth planned for Michael Kors Collection and the soon-to-be-launched Michael Michael Kors brand.
“At this point in my career, I wanted to be involved with a brand that has the exponential opportunity to grow,” said Idol in an interview Thursday at Kors headquarters. Aided by an infusion of capital and new management, Kors’ overall wholesale volume is expected to reach $1 billion over the next several years, he said.
Reports have circulated for eight months that Idol would join Kors once his deal to sell the bankrupt Kasper was wrapped up. Kasper’s reorganization plan, as well as the closing of the purchase agreement by Jones Apparel Group for Kasper’s assets, is effective Dec. 1. As reported, at that time, Idol will walk away with a windfall of $14.5 million for his efforts in turning around Kasper’s business operations.
Idol declined comment on whether he was investing in the new partnership at Kors, but spoke enthusiastically about his newest venture.
“The Michael Kors brand has really been untouched. Michael’s done an amazing job the last 22 years building the Collection part of the business,” said Idol. The immediate game plan is to build the Collection business through enhanced shop-in-shops, freestanding retail stores, and more European business, while rapidly expanding Kors’ vision into a new “affordable luxury” line called Michael Michael Kors, he said.
The Michael Michael Kors line of women’s, men’s and accessories products — which key retail partners have previewed — will debut at retail in fall 2004. The line shares the same philosophy as Kors’ signature collection, which is polished American sportswear.
Kors, who was in Europe and couldn’t be reached for comment, said in a statement: “I met John almost a year ago and obviously his stellar reputation had preceded him, but I was duly impressed when we actually sat down for the first time. He’s a great asset, and we cannot wait to get started.”Chou told WWD, “We’ve known John for many years. Everything in life is timing.” He said he was willing to wait several months until Idol could extricate himself from Kasper. “He had a legal obligation and a personal obligation. The timing is right,” said Chou.
Last January, Chou and Stroll, through their company Sportswear Holdings Limited, bought an estimated 85 percent of Michael Kors LLC for a reported $100 million. They purchased the one-third stake in Kors’ business held by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton; 10 percent from Onward Kashiyama USA, and the remainder owned by John Orchulli, the designer’s long-term business partner who remained with the firm as ceo until March.
Chou is clearly excited about Kors’ potential to become the next department store megabrand. “I think Michael is the next great American designer, and it’s the combination of everybody. It starts with Michael’s vision. With Tommy [Hilfiger] it was classics with a twist. With Michael, it’s classics with a modern touch.”
Idol said his team at Kors is now complete. It consists of Brigitte Kleine, who is president of the Michael Kors Collection women’s division; Gia Castrogiovanni, president of the Michael women’s collection; Anna Bakst, president of Michael Kors and Michael accessories, and Don Witkowski, president of Michael Kors and Michael men’s collections. Allison Ryba, who continues to serve as interim president until Idol officially comes aboard, will then become president of licensing and retail. Susan Sokol, president of SLS Consulting, consulted on the Collection this year, and will continue in that capacity on an interim basis.
Turning to Kors’ growth plan, Idol pointed out that opening more freestanding stores for Michael Kors Collection is a top priority. The company, which has freestanding stores in New York and Tokyo, is about to sign a lease on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
“We’ll be on a fairly large campaign to open Collection stores both worldwide and domestically,” he said. Some will be owned, others will be franchised. Additionally, the company plans to increase its advertising presence in a new spring campaign created by Fabien Baron.
The Michael better sportswear line will be developed in-house. There are also plans to launch additional licensed products for fall 2004, such as men’s furnishings, small leather goods and coats, pegged to the rollout of in-store shops and a significant advertising campaign. The strategy is to launch Michael with critical mass in an initial rollout of about 250 department and specialty store doors, giving Michael an all-encompassing presence on the scale of Polo in men’s wear or DKNY in women’s.Idol spent the past two years at Kasper. Before that, he served as ceo of Donna Karan International from August 1997 until August 2001. After leaving DKI, Idol filed a breach-of-contract suit against his former employers and LVMH, which had just bought DKI, for his severance payments totaling $12.2 million. Four months later, the dispute was settled, and industry sources indicated Idol recouped his severance package, with minor adjustments. Earlier, Idol spent 15 years at Polo/Ralph Lauren.
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