Richard Cohen has big plans for Robert Talbott. Since taking the helm of the California-based neckwear and shirtmaker last August, the former Zegna exec has been busy repositioning the product-driven company as an American luxury lifestyle brand. Cohen aims to double Talbott’s business—estimated at $50 million annually—in the next two to three years with expanded product categories, additional retail stores, improved distribution channels and a new multimedia advertising campaign—a first for the previously discreet brand.
“Robert Talbott is a sleeping jewel—one which we are slowly awakening,” says Cohen. “We are going to do it with product first, marketing second, but, most important of all—especially in the men’s industry—is relationships.”
And if there is one thing Cohen knows, it’s the men’s market. When he signed on as Zegna’s chief executive officer for North America in 1986, it was a family-run business, much like the Robert Talbott he inherited last year. By taking a family company like Zegna and running it like something else, Cohen transformed the Italian brand into a powerhouse men’s luxury label, growing Zegna’s U.S. business from $13 million when he joined the company to $200 million when he left 16 years later. His approach to Talbott, which up until now has been well-known for its understated classics—like the luxe Estate tie collection and Seven-Fold Tie—will likely be similar. Although ties currently represent 50 percent of Talbott’s volume, Cohen says there will be a natural decrease in that representation as the brand “gets into the tailored clothing business and higher price points.” Dress shirts will now compete in a price point of $250 and higher and have been slimmed down and shortened. Under Cohen’s guidance, Talbott has also added an outerwear collection, is expanding its women’s business and is scheduled to launch activewear as well as clothing over the next few seasons. “I’m not ready to announce anything yet, but we will end up with a complete lifestyle collection of Robert Talbott in the next 18 months,” says Cohen.
To help convey that message, Robert Talbott will unveil a celebrity spokesperson in the next three to six months. “I really believe in that,” says Cohen, who notoriously signed Angelina Jolie as the face of the high-end women’s brand St. John Knits, where he served as CEO during an 18-month tenure. “It’s absolutely going to be bigger than a print campaign—it’s going to be a multimedia platform.” Cohen would not reveal any names but did say that “everyone will be amazed and fascinated by who it is.” The company also ran its first print ad in the February edition of Men’s Vogue.
But perhaps nowhere are changes to Robert Talbott’s traditional format more evident than in its enhanced distribution strategy. As Cohen strives to grow the brand and accommodate an expanding market, larger accounts are becoming increasingly important to the iconic men’s label, whose business was largely built upon relationships with smaller specialty stores.
“When I first got to Robert Talbott, someone could buy one tie—Mr. Talbott never wanted to say no to anyone,” says Cohen. “But there comes a time, 50 years later, when you still don’t want to say no but it might be a bit more cost-prohibitive.” Talbott recently started doing business with Saks Fifth Avenue, is currently the largest supplier of men’s shirts and ties to Nordstrom, and is hoping to start working with Neiman Marcus.
The emerging strategy has fueled speculation and concern among some specialty stores—many of whom have been doing business with the company since it was founded by Robert Talbott Sr. in 1950—that new minimum-order requirements will cut them out altogether. Word has circulated that unless stores are placing orders of $10,000 or more each season, they will not be given the Robert Talbott book, which is traditionally the place from which many specialty stores make their seasonal buys. “My sales reps were telling me that unless you buy a certain number of dollars, you have to pay for the book,” said one retailer who did not want his name used. “Now, if you don’t buy a certain amount, we’re hearing you don’t get the book.”
Cohen firmly discredits the rumors. “The minimums are significantly less than any others in the marketplace,” says Cohen. “We believe to be a Robert Talbott customer you should have no problem buying a small amount of shirts and ties.” Cohen would not disclose exactly what defines “a small amount,” but was candid about his desire to focus on partners who have the ability to increase the brand’s visibility. “As I branch out, obviously stores like Mitchells—the ones that have the capacity to help us— will become more important and rise to the top.”
Specialty retailers have called Cohen’s new strategy everything from “informed” to “aggressive,” and many said, from a brand-building perspective, the changes made sense. “I think Richard will do anything he can to expand and grow the brand—he is a proven commodity and I hope it will go north,” says Howard Vogt, owner of Rodes in Louisville. “Ultimately, change is good—although sometimes it can be painful.”
Changes will extend to staffing as well, where Cohen has designated longtime Talbott family friend and employee Kathy Spindler to head a new division solely dedicated to small accounts. “We will take it away from our sales force and give it to Kathy,” says Cohen. “She is going to personally look after the smaller accounts and help them to drive Robert Talbott to the best of their ability.” To better articulate Talbott’s new vision, Cohen is slowly increasing the sales staff and adding personnel to the design teams—including some high-powered professionals from St. John to work on the women’s collection, Audrey.
Cohen will also add Robert Talbott retail stores to the brand’s existing retail portfolio. Though cities have not yet been determined, Cohen says the company will focus on building a chain of stores on the East Coast. Currently, there are four Talbott stores: Carmel and Pebble Beach, Calif., New York City and Dallas.
“All I want people to do is have some patience—there’s a huge expectation,” says Cohen. “Richard Cohen can’t do these things in five minutes.”
Breaking News: @louisvuitton's men's artistic director @mrkimjones is leaving the French fashion house after nearly 7 years. Jones joined Louis Vuitton in 2011, following a three year tenure as creative director of British luxury goods brand Alfred Dunhill. Jones is to exit Louis Vuitton after showing his fall 2018 collection for the brand in Paris on Thursday. Read the full exclusive story on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
For men’s fall 2018, @giuseppezanotti drew on elements from streetwear, sport, biker, combat and rock ‘n’ roll. Pictured here are a pair of shoes from the collection, featuring zippers, rhinestones, and silver hardware. Head to WWD.com to see a roundup of the accessories from Milan’s men’s fall 2018 shows. #wwdfashion (📷: Andrea Delb)
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of @ralphlauren’s snowboarding collection, the brand is mining its archives. The iconic brand is reintroducing vintage styles and dropping new designs for a color capsule that will be available in Ralph Lauren stores and @openingceremony on January 25. The capsule will consist of 10 pieces, including the Snow Beach Pullover, pictured here, which is a collector’s item that rapper Raekwon wore in Wu-Tang Clan’s “Can It Be All So Simple” video. #wwdfashion (📷: Tom Gould)
For @rochasofficial’s pre-fall 2018 collection, creative director Alessandro Dell’Acqua channeled the sophisticated and intriguing Catherine Denevue in the film “Belle de Jour.” Polished collarless coats, midi skirts, suits and ’60s graphic motifs were all featured in the collection, adding a sense of discreet luxury. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion
“We tried to produce clothing of that couture quality, but the most daunting part was that we only had a matter of days [to do it],” said costume designer Lou Eyrich, who recreated Gianni Versace’s iconic looks for @americancrimestoryfx. Eyrich searched online retailers and vintage shops for original pieces from the design house and for @penelopecruzoficial, who plays Donatella Versace. Head to WWD.com to read how she created the Versace world. #wwdfashion
Only three months after her stellar debut catwalk season, @kaiagerber has inked her first big design collaboration –– with @karllagerfeld. The collection blends Lagerfeld’s Parisian chic aesthetic and the model’s signature West Coast casual style via RTW, accessories, footwear and more. The #KarlLagerfeldxKaia collection will launch in September with a series of events. Get all the details on WWD.com. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
Harrods plans to remove the famous statue of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed from the bottom of the Egyptian escalators and hand it back to Mohamed Al-Fayed. “We are very proud to have played our role in celebrating the lives of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed at Harrods and to have welcomed people from around the world to visit the memorial for the past 20 years,” said Michael Ward, Harrods managing director. “With the announcement of the new official memorial statue to Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace, we feel that the time is right to return this memorial to Mr. Al Fayed and for the public to be invited to pay their respects at the palace.” More on the news, with reporting by @loreleimarfil, at WWD.com. #wwdnews