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Theory Appoints Brian Blake

Company names former Gucci chief president and coo for the U.S. and Europe.

NEW YORK — From tapping Olivier Theyskens to create the capsule Theyskens’ Theory collection to making the Belgian native artistic director of the entire contemporary brand, Theory has evolved significantly over the past few months.

This story first appeared in the February 2, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Now, to further boost growth, Theory founder and co-chief executive officer Andrew Rosen has brought in an industry executive with global stature. Brian Blake — a veteran of Gucci, Burberry and Prada — has been named president and chief operating officer of Theory and Helmut Lang for the U.S. and Europe. In this newly created position, Blake’s responsibilities range from retail to wholesale and potential future licenses for Theory, Theyskens’ Theory and Helmut Lang.

“As our company continues to evolve and grow globally, it’s important for us to create a structure to be able to manage it,” Rosen told WWD on Tuesday in an exclusive interview, calling Blake’s global background and personality “a perfect complement to me.”

The executives had been in talks for about a year, and Blake officially started in the role three weeks ago. Most recently, he was chief operating officer and commercial director at Prada in Milan, where he oversaw the retail and wholesale businesses for the Prada, Miu Miu and Car Shoe brands. He left that post in 2009. Prior to that, Blake was worldwide president and chief operating officer of Burberry Group plc during the brand’s Rose Marie Bravo era of explosive growth. Before that, he worked closely with Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford on turning around and relaunching Gucci Group, where he spent 17 years. The executive started his career in merchandising at Lord & Taylor.

Blake said he found Theory’s global potential, Theyskens’ arrival at the brand and the prospect of working directly with Rosen appealing.

“I look at the brand on the global stage,” he said. “We don’t have a presence to speak of in Europe. When you look at what’s happening in today’s economy, everything is interlinked.

“This is still a relatively new business,” Blake added. “We have to make the brand known in different parts of the world. “

He joins the brand at a time of renewed energy in the contemporary sector, driven by labels like Helmut Lang (which is owned by Theory) Alexander Wang, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Rag & Bone and Elizabeth and James.

According to Rosen, this year looks set to become the strongest ever in terms of profitability for Theory, which has sales of more than $500 million.

“We are looking at this as an opportunity to dynamically evolve and grow our business on a global scale,” Rosen said. “For the most part, we have an enormous business in America and in Japan. Our business in Europe is very strong in the U.K. and we have a nice presence [elsewhere], but not nearly what I think the potential is.”

Currently, the U.S. market accounts for roughly 50 percent of Theory’s total business; Japan, 35 percent, and the rest of the world 15 percent. Theory’s business in Asia is overseen by the brand’s global ceo Ricky Sasaki, who is based in Tokyo.

“One of the things that attracted me about Olivier was the opportunity to build a global brand with a global designer,” Rosen added. “Likewise, I saw the opportunity with Brian to develop a global business with a global businessman.

“A local business platform is no longer enough,” Rosen added. “Between Theory, Helmut Lang and Theyskens’ Theory, there is a lot of ground to cover, and I felt it was important to have an additional executive and talent in the company. The presence of Olivier Theyskens sparked a lot of interest and ignited the fire, not only in the U.S. but also outside the U.S. That is very nice, but we have to deliver on it. Now that we have a proper team in place, the hard work begins. We have to not only create clothes, but also execute them with a business platform for them to succeed in.”