By  on February 15, 2005

NEW YORK — Jeffrey Tweedy, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Sean John and instrumental in building its men’s wear business into a $450 million retail operation, has exited the firm.

Tweedy, who has been with the company since its launch in 1998, didn’t return repeated messages left at his home Monday.

Sean Combs, founder and chief executive officer of Sean John, said in a statement, “Jeffrey Tweedy was an asset in growing the Sean John brand, and I appreciate his hard work on our behalf. We wish him well in all his future endeavors.”

Todd Kahn, chief operating officer, will assume Tweedy’s responsibilities.

Since its 1998 launch, Sean John has transformed itself from a hot urban brand into a respected men’s designer sportswear business. Tweedy is credited with setting in motion the company that began as a T-shirt and jeans brand and expanding it into a lifestyle collection.  He was thought to be doing a good job, but sources said the position might have become too big for him, and it was a mutual decision to part ways. His earlier experience included posts at the Spike Lee company, 40 Acres Inc., as vice president of its apparel division, as well as at Mexx and Karl Kani.

In 2003, California billionaire Ron Burkle invested $100 million in Sean John’s business, with the aim of turning Sean John into a global, billion-dollar brand. The infusion of capital was intended to expand the company’s wholesale and retail operations both domestically and abroad. Sean John opened its first flagship at 475 Fifth Avenue here in August and has several more stores under way. Sean John also invested in Zac Posen’s company. For the past several years, Sean John has been preparing for its highly anticipated entry into women’s wear, but the firm has postponed the launch several times.

“We’re not going to rush [women’s apparel],” said Tweedy in an interview last November, after the company postponed its fall 2005 women’s launch. The company now plans to have a women’s wear collection in stores for holiday 2005, timed to coincide with the introduction of Sean John’s men’s fragrance, licensed to the Estée Lauder Cos.Max Wilson, who joined Sean John in August, is designing the Sean John women’s collection. He had previously designed the women’s collection at Polo Ralph Lauren for the past 11 years. Last November, the company hired Wendy Chivian as executive vice president of the women’s collection.

There has been much speculation about what kind of women’s collection Sean John will launch and where it will be positioned in department stores. In an interview last August, Wilson said that although the line will be designed for the contemporary market, Sean Jean’s priority was to give it a “designer brand” image that is evident in Combs’ men’s wear. Combs won the men’s designer of the year award last June from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

“We’re talking about clothes that are really sexy, stylish and versatile — clothes that reflect my image of him,” Wilson said. “I see him [Sean Combs] as the new elegance. He represents a total lifestyle, and women have been asking for these clothes for years.”

Ever since Combs launched his men’s wear collection in 1998, the women’s wear market has been inundated with pop and hip-hop stars entering the fray. Just last week, Jennifer Lopez showed her JLo and Sweetface women’s lines on the Bryant Park runways, while others such as Jennifer Simpson, Beyoncé, Eve, Lil’ Kim and Gwen Stefani have all thrown their hats into the women’s arena.

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