Can Halston Rise Again?

This will be the next major hurdle for Halston parent Hilco Consumer Capital LLC now that it has bought out its two highest-profile executives.

NEW YORK — Can Halston pull itself back together again, following the brand’s executive implosion late last week?

This story first appeared in the July 18, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

This will be the next major hurdle for Halston parent Hilco Consumer Capital LLC now that it has bought out its two highest-profile executives, Harvey Weinstein and Sarah Jessica Parker, as reported. Both Weinstein and Parker had equity in the Halston business, which now is believed to be owned entirely by Hilco.

With rumors of clashes between board members, industry sources said Hilco now needs a strong leader to undo the damage of the past four years and to start rebuilding the brand. Ben Malka, president of BCBG Max Azria Group, is said to be close to joining Halston to head up the Heritage business and possibly handle other responsibilities, according to sources. Malka denied he was joining Halston Friday.

Malka took over the presidency of BCBG in 2001. Before that he was president of the company’s footwear and accessories division. He did a stint at medical school before pursuing his passion for fashion and business. According to sources, Malka is very well connected in the investment banking world and is considered a solid operator and strategist. Should a deal be finalized, he would come to Halston with a strong background in the contemporary category, which will be instrumental in building Heritage.

As reported on WWD.com on Friday, Hilco also isn’t renewing its contract with London-based Marios Schwab, and is axing the main collection he designed, to focus on the less expensive Halston Heritage line. It was unclear at press time whether the company would deliver Schwab’s fall Halston collection to stores. It will not be producing the designer collection for spring. Tamara Mellon, who had initially brought Halston to Weinstein’s attention and was on the board, is also said to no longer be associated with the brand.

Richard Kaye, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Hilco Trading, Hilco Consumer Capital’s parent company, didn’t return a phone call Friday seeking comment about the future of Halston.

Hilco just pumped $7.5 million in new capital into the Halston business. Some industry observers are wondering, however, if that’s enough to keep the brand operating.

Although the late Halston is considered a major influence in American fashion history, his reign in the late Seventies was relatively short. The brand has been plagued with challenges since those days, and numerous attempts to revive the label — with designers Randolph Duke, Kevan Hall, Craig Natiello, Piyawat Pattanapuckdee, Bradley Bayou and Marco Zanini — failed.

That said, several fashion executives said the Halston moniker still has some resonance, particularly with Baby Boomers.

“I have great faith in Halston but not with what they [Hilco] have been doing with it,” David Wolfe, creative director of trend forecasting firm Doneger Group, said. “I think the name can be resuscitated but it would cost a lot of money, because at this point you have to educate a new generation of consumers.

“I don’t think any money has been spent in the rebirthing of the label,” Wolfe added. “I think it needs massive advertising to help bring it back to the position it had in its glory days. If you talk to the average fashion consumer, she most likely isn’t aware that there have been attempts to revive the label. It’s been done at such a low profile.”

The contemporary Heritage line made more of a splash, with an estimated distribution at more than 500 doors.

Kim Vernon, president and ceo of Vernon Co., a brand consultant, said Heritage could grow into a viable business for Hilco, “provided they find and accept someone with experience in the industry who can be a leader and stay focused on delivering the right product at the right price. I think they still have time to turn it around and get it on track.”