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Liz Claiborne Inc.’s purchase of Ellen Tracy is a homecoming of sorts for Glenn McMahon, the division’s new president, and Gail Cook, who now oversees Ellen Tracy as group president of bridge brands.
This story first appeared in the October 23, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Both McMahon, who had been president of Claiborne’s Kenneth Cole women’s sportswear line, and Cook spent time at Ellen Tracy earlier in their careers, although not at the same time. They will now work together on making sure the Linda Allard Ellen Tracy and Company Ellen Tracy brands — with combined net sales of $171 million in 2001 — continue running smoothly and maintain their position as category leaders.
Company founder Herbert Gallen will continue to serve as chairman, and his wife, Linda Allard, remains as design director, as reported. Following prolonged negotiations, Claiborne bought Ellen Tracy on Sept. 30 for about $180 million, ending its 53-year run as a privately held company.
After just one week on the job at the Ellen Tracy showroom here at 1441 Broadway, the same building that houses Liz Claiborne’s $3.4 billion apparel empire, McMahon and Cook talked about what it’s like to come back to the firm and where they see it going.
The duo emphasized that it will largely be “business as usual,” as the two apparel companies are still in the process of getting acquainted and looking for ways to share business practices, while maintaining the spirit and identity of Ellen Tracy.
“I haven’t been here for eight years, so I’ve spent the last week meeting with as many people as I can, having small group conversations and one-on-one conversations,” said McMahon, who also had stints at Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan. “Transitions and changes are never easy, particularly for a company that has been around for 53 years. But the willingness and openness of everyone has been encouraging and in the end, we have a shared common goal. That’s the integrity and quality of the Ellen Tracy brand, and I think there’s a very good partnership to carry this forward.”
In his new role, McMahon is responsible for sales, design, marketing and production, reporting to Cook, who also oversees the Dana Buchman and Sigrid Olsen divisions, including spearheading corporate initiatives and making sure each brand maintains its own individuality and runs smoothly.
“Basically, the general operation is not going to change at all,” said Cook, who started as Gallen’s administrative assistant in 1978, then worked in sales and helped launch the petite division over a nine-year period. “We will look for certain types of synergies trying to find things that Liz Claiborne and Ellen Tracy do the same, we might do collectively. Maybe that would occur in sourcing and some back-end synergies. In other words, anything the consumer sees or is the culture of Ellen Tracy must stay the same — first and foremost.”
Cook and McMahon both said that returning to Ellen Tracy is something special.
“It’s like a full circle,” said Cook. “One thing that has always been extraordinary about the company is its longevity and all the familiar faces that work here. The brand has evolved in so many ways yet so much of the culture has remained so much the same.
“But my role is much more on the corporate side and running the back-end. Glenn and I know each other very well from working at Liz Claiborne and we have 17 years combined working here at Ellen Tracy. We know a lot of the same people and our working relationship and that synergy is very simple and streamlined.”
McMahon, whose new home is just nine floors down from the Kenneth Cole showroom where he worked just before, added: “The good news is we know a lot of the players here, so it’s really ‘roll up your sleeves’ and get to know one another and take it from here.”
Plans for Ellen Tracy include looking for additional licensing opportunities, expanding the casual apparel line, opening Ellen Tracy flagship stores and expanding internationally. There are six existing Ellen Tracy licenses for fragrance, shoes, eyewear, hosiery, belts and scarves.
“It’s not a matter of what comes first, it’s really a conjunction of all of those goals,” McMahon added. “There are existing licensing arrangements now, and I want to look at them and see where opportunities exist. Handbags and jewelry might be a possibility. They don’t exist now and they could be licensed or done in-house.”