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Kellwood Co. Names Jill Granoff CEO

The New York-based executive succeeds Michael Kramer, who joined J.C. Penney Co. Inc. as chief operating officer in December.

NEW YORK — After a six-month search, Kellwood Co. has finally named a new chief executive officer.

Jill Granoff, 50, former ceo of Kenneth Cole Productions, has been appointed ceo of Kellwood, owned by an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners Inc. The appointment confirms a WWD report April 3.

Granoff, who begins today and is based here, succeeds Michael Kramer, who joined J.C. Penney Co. Inc. as chief operating officer in December.

In March, Granoff ended a one-year non-compete from her role at KCP. Before joining KCP in 2008, she was executive vice president at Liz Claiborne Inc., where she had global responsibility for Juicy Couture, Lucky Brand Jeans, Kate Spade and the company’s e-commerce and outlet businesses. Before that, she spent 17 years in the beauty industry. She served as president and chief operating officer of Victoria’s Secret Beauty, as well as senior vice president, strategic planning, finance and information systems for Estée Lauder Inc. Since August, Granoff has served on the board of Demandware, an e-commerce company, a role she will continue.

Granoff reports to Christopher T. Metz, managing director, Sun Capital Partners, which purchased Kellwood for $762 million in February 2008. “Jill’s experience and leadership will add significant value as Kellwood expands its presence in the industry and further grows its brands worldwide,” said Metz.

As ceo, Granoff will be responsible for the growth and direction of Kellwood’s brand portfolio, which includes Vince, Rebecca Taylor, David Meister, BLK DNM, Zobha, Lamb & Flag, Baby Phat, Phat Farm, Sag Harbor, Briggs NY, Jolt, My Michelle and XOXO. In addition to its wholesale business, the company operates retail stores and e-commerce sites for Vince, Rebecca Taylor, BLK DNM and Lamb & Flag, and has e-commerce for David Meister.

“I am excited about the opportunity to partner with Kellwood and Sun Capital to optimize the brand portfolio and enhance overall business performance,” said Granoff. “We have a great platform to accelerate growth and profitability. I look forward to working with our talented team to deliver compelling product, merchandising and customer experiences that enable us to unlock our true potential.”

Granoff told WWD that several things attracted her to Kellwood, among them the diversified brand portfolio and the financial support of Sun. “I find the multibrand portfolio very exciting. The company has meaningful size and scale, yet at the same time there is significant opportunity for growth,” she said. While she’s not ready to make her strategy public yet, she observed, “The good news is we have the backing and support of Sun Capital to help fuel this growth.”

Over the last several years, Kellwood has dramatically changed its complexion, adding contemporary brands such as Vince and Rebecca Taylor to its portfolio, while ceasing production of mainstream brands such as Koret. Since Kramer’s departure, the company shed one of its newer contemporary acquisitions, Adam, designed by Adam Lippes.

Asked whether making acquisitions will be a priority, or will the company manage what it has, Granoff said: “I think it will probably be a combination of both. I think we’ll continue to assess strategic acquisition opportunities, and we’ll look for businesses that provide scale and diversification, as well as platform capabilities for expansion. Sometimes you can buy a company in accessories or denim or international that can help support other brands in the portfolio.”

She said the company has a competitive advantage with its “plug-and-play” model, since it has the infrastructure to offer brands sourcing, distribution and back-office support.

According to Granoff, her immediate priorities are to meet the team, learn the business and develop a strategic plan to accelerate growth and profitability. She plans to be in the New York office today, visit the Chesterfield, Mo. headquarters Tuesday and visit Los Angeles Wednesday and Thursday, where Vince, David Meister and the junior and lifestyle brands are based. She will save San Francisco, where yoga brand Zobha is based, for another trip. “I’m sure I’ll be walking stores as well given my passion for retail,” she said.

As for whether Kellwood will divest of any of its brands, she said: “I think we’ll focus on optimizing the portfolio. It’s too soon to say what the strategy will be for each and every brand. We’ll certainly distort our efforts to accelerating proven winners like Vince and Rebecca Taylor.”

Opening retail stores is an ongoing initiative at Kellwood. Vince, for example, will open a Madison Avenue store in June and one at The Grove in Los Angeles in October. Rebecca Taylor will be opening several stores this year, including Scottsdale Fashion Square and The Westchester in White Plains in June, New York’s Madison Avenue in July and Phipps Plaza in Atlanta in September. Zobha will also be opening its first freestanding store.

Granoff said she has gleaned valuable experiences at her former stomping grounds, Victoria’s Secret, Estée Lauder, Claiborne and KCP, which she’ll apply to her new role at Kellwood. “I’ve been really fortunate to have some wonderful work experience, and I’ll certainly apply those learnings. First of all, I’ll be defining a clear vision and a road map to achieve that vision. That was so important at Victoria’s Secret Beauty where we doubled the business from $500 million to $1 billion by developing new product categories, opening new stores and launching into the international markets,” she said.

She also said building aspirational brands requires establishing an emotional connection to the customer. “I certainly learned that at Estée Lauder, which does that so effectively, and then was able to apply that at places like Juicy Couture, where we were able to develop the business into a full lifestyle brand, not only with the tracksuit but with sportswear, fragrance, sunglasses and shoes. We were rolling out stores and really building out that business,” she said.

The other key, she said, is having compelling product, merchandising and customer experiences, and that’s certainly what she focused on at Claiborne with Juicy, Lucky Brand and Kate Spade. At KCP, she learned that creating impactful marketing messages that really resonate with consumers helps you capture share of mind, which is an opportunity at Kellwood. The group hasn’t been aggressive in advertising to date, but it’s an opportunity to consider, she said.

Finally, she said, she intends to surround herself with “the best and brightest people.”

“You can’t do it by yourself. You need great teams. I think there’s a very talented team at Kellwood today. We’ll also be looking to build capabilities, as we look to expand many of the brands, in terms of retail, licensing and international. To really realize the growth potential, we’ll leverage the existing team and add selective talent to get us to the next level.”