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Jones Group Crystallizing Its Vision

The hiring of Stefani Greenfield sent a clear signal about the company's strategy under Wesley Card and Richard Dickson.

NEW YORK — The Jones Group Inc. is ready for Phase Two of its renovation.

This story first appeared in the January 5, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

As the company battles with the increasingly promotional department store environment, major brands that need to be reinvented and the mercurial consumer, it is pushing forward with the development of a brand-centric — rather than category-centric — approach to its divisions that the company hopes will enable it to get to the next level of growth.

A key element in the next phase of the revamp, which is being overseen by Richard Dickson, president and chief executive officer of branded businesses, was the hiring last November of Stefani Greenfield as chief creative officer. Greenfield is best known for having co-founded Scoop NYC, and, after leaving the retail chain in September 2008, has been focusing on the Theodora & Callum label and her Curations for HSN brand — leaving some to speculate about the reasons Jones was creating this role now, and why she would want to take the job in the first place.

For Dickson and Jones’ chief executive officer Wesley Card, though, the Greenfield hire is symbolic of this larger strategic shift that aims to reinvigorate the corporate culture and portfolio of brands at Jones.

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“At this junction, almost 19 months later [after I joined], the soil has been toiled,” Dickson noted, sitting in his newly renovated, modernist office with views of downtown Manhattan last month. “The organization is now ready for a talent like Stefani Greenfield to come in and start to curate, edit, and really drive the branded point of view more clearly and distinctly through merchandising, design and creativity.”

Greenfield will work with the creative teams across all Jones brands, and will work with Dickson, to whom she reports, to help identify new talent where needed.

“In our traditional brands, we are in a what we call ‘reinvigoration’ plan,” Dickson said. “We are reinvigorating the Jones New York brand, and Stefani will bring firepower to that process. We are reinvigorating the Anne Klein brand, bringing harmony in design [across categories] and a connection with the heritage of the brand. The Nine West brand is a powerful global, fashion footwear brand that also needs new energy, and Stefani’s influence in that category will be tremendous.”

He first met Greenfield through Stuart Weitzman —who is making the shoes for Theodora & Callum — last spring. “We had a fantastic first meeting,” Dickson recalled. “It continued to a lunch and through a dinner. From the moment I met Stefani, I wanted her to be my partner. There was no search. The intent of the position was never there. It grew organically into the position she has.”

Greenfield called her new gig “a creative dream.” When asked why she took the job, she didn’t hesitate: “Richard,” she said. “He inspired me to be a part of this evolution, and to believe in this blank canvas that can be a creative wonderland for me, from a design, merchandising and marketing platform.”

She said her approach at Jones will not be too different from her 12-year experience at Scoop, which she likened to a constant quest for the “ultimate closet.” Greenfield left Scoop after reported disagreements with owner Ron Burkle, who installed a new management team that has spent the last three years turning around the struggling fashion retailer. “Now,” she said, “I have a company with phenomenal brands I can edit down to items within each brand that can drive the business, and are part of a total look.”

Greenfield will continue to separately market Theodora & Callum as well as Curations for HSN.

“She will help us in reenergizing some of the brands and working with some of the newer brands we have,” Card said. “She simplifies things, and can see through a lot of the same complexities we see in the fixing of problems and in the creative end of the business. She has knowledge of all aspects of the process, from how goods are produced, designed, made, sold, and how they relate to consumers.”

Greenfield’s hire also comes at a time of continued challenges for manufacturing companies like Jones, and Dickson hopes her eye will help set Jones apart. The low-key Card has quietly steadied Jones and led it through the global economic downturn, while adding a few brands along the way, including Rachel Roy, Robert Rodriguez and Stuart Weitzman. The most recent was the $350 million acquisition of Kurt Geiger, which will significantly boost Jones’ footwear operations and give it a much higher profile in the footwear sector in Europe.

Jones is one of largest vendors but competes with the larger still VF Corp., which last year grew even bigger with the $2.3 billion purchase of Timberland, and PVH Corp., which continues to see its profits and sales grow on the backs of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. Kellwood Co. developed an aggressive strategy of acquisitions under then-ceo Michael Kramer, although it remains to be seen whether that will continue following Kramer’s departure last fall to become chief operating officer of J.C. Penney Co. Inc.

Part of Greenfield’s task will be to boost Jones’ U.S. apparel operations, which have been lagging its other businesses. The group’s total revenues inched up 4.4 percent to $2.89 billion for the nine months ended Oct. 1, with all of that growth coming from international operations and its wholesale footwear and accessories business. International retail was the standout performer with a better-than-fourfold revenue increase to $148.9 million. Wholesale sportswear revenues slipped 6.4 percent to $715.6 million, wholesale jeans revenues fell 4.5 percent to $611.7 million and U.S. retail revenues dipped 1.5 percent to $451.8 million.

Operating profits for the nine months dropped 13.2 percent to $166.4 million, with only the international wholesale division seeing year-over-year improvement.

Wall Street also has been pummeling the company, with Jones’ shares falling 31 percent last year. The company’s shares slipped 2.5 percent Wednesday to close at $10.01.

“We are not alone in recognizing that consumer sentiment has been down,” Dickson admitted. “The economy isn’t necessarily improving. The marketplace is becoming more promotional. We have a portfolio of brands that operate in a space that is more promotional in nature and, therefore, we are challenged. I don’t think we’re alone in that picture, but I think we’re blocking and tackling every day and not only are we maintaining our business, and in fact in some cases growing it, but we’re also renovating the company. I often say, ‘We’re renovating a house while we live in it.’”

He meant that figuratively and literally. In addition to focusing on reenvisioning each brand within the Jones portfolio, the company also started completely overhauling the 14 floors it leases at the company’s 1411 Broadway headquarters to reflect the more brand-centric approach and more modern aesthetic.

“I came here to build it from what it is to what it could be,” Dickson said. “When I said, ‘Who runs the Anne Klein room?,’ they would tell me knits are on 27, wovens are here and the design team is there. Everyone was all over the building. How can you have creative process or design synergy if you’re not sitting next to each other ? I said, ‘Let’s restack the building and reshape the identity and give people space that is a complement to their function.’”

Jones added a 44,181-square-foot design center on the fourth floor which centralizes all the design teams.

Rachel Roy is also among the designers who already have a new showroom. Spread across two floors, the 2,000-square-foot Rachel Roy showroom on the 21st floor connects to the 1,760-square-foot Rachel Rachel Roy showroom on the floor above via an interior staircase. The overall feel is that of a modern French apartment, with contemporary art by sculptor Jo-Ann Brody and painter Perri Neri.

Dickson declined to disclose the cost of the renovation but stressed it is “within the framework of our budget. We are not haphazardly putting money behind something without being fiscally responsible.”

The moves also correspond to the company’s 2010 name change, when the Jones Apparel Group Inc. became, simply, The Jones Group Inc. — a decision Card and Dickson made after much discussion.

“We finally recognized the company is not just about apparel,” Dickson said. “We also have a huge footwear, jewelry and accessory business. It also took us out of category perception, and more into a group of brands perception.”