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NEW YORK — Kellwood Co. is stepping on the Vince accelerator.
The company said Wednesday that Jill Granoff, chief executive officer of Kellwood, will assume the additional responsibility of ceo of Vince, overseeing the strategic growth and direction of the Los Angeles-based contemporary brand. In addition, Granoff named Doo-Ri Chung creative director of Vince. Chung will relocate to Vince’s Los Angeles design studio and will be responsible for design, product development and creative branding initiatives.
The moves were spurred by the resignations Tuesday of Vince cofounders Rea Laccone, ceo, and Christopher LaPolice, president. Granoff plans to name a new president in the near future.
Granoff said one of the reasons she was hired by Sun Capital Partners to be the ceo of Kellwood “was to accelerate the growth of Vince and unleash its potential as a global lifestyle brand.” There has been speculation Sun may do an initial public offering for Vince, but Granoff declined to comment. Kellwood is reportedly working with Goldman Sachs as it explores an IPO or sale of Vince, although it couldn’t be learned if the investment bank has been officially hired to put together an offering.
If there were an IPO, financial sources believe it would be a partial spin off of Vince, which would leave Kellwood holding a significant stake in that business, as well as its other, less profitable businesses, such as Rebecca Taylor, Sag Harbor and My Michelle.
“I’ve been involved in overseeing [Vince] since Day One,” said Granoff, who joined Kellwood last May after having been ceo of Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. Vince’s retail, licensing and marketing operations have reported to her. She will continue to be based in New York and will travel back and forth to Los Angeles.
She reiterated LaPolice’s remark that he and Laccone had only wanted to stay five years after selling Vince to Kellwood in 2006, and ended up staying seven years. “They stayed and worked on the transition. This has been carefully orchestrated,” said Granoff. LaPolice and Laccone no longer had an ownership stake in Vince, which they founded in 2002, and plan to leave Feb. 1. LaPolice ran sales and marketing, and Laccone was responsible for design, merchandising and production.
Granoff believes Chung has the right design sensibility to take the Vince business forward. “She’s very well known for her design and technical aesthetic. She has a modern design aesthetic and a real understanding of our customer,” said Granoff. She said Chung will work with the current team of Vince designers, patternmakers and production executives at the Los Angeles design studio.
Earlier, Chung served as founder and creative director of her namesake label, Doo.Ri. She left Tharanco Group, which owns her label, last June.
A Korean-American, Chung launched her signature collection in 2003 after graduating from Parsons School of Design and working for Geoffrey Beene for five years. She has won numerous awards for her design and technical excellence. Known for her draping, particularly of jersey fabric, detailed knitwear and art-inspired prints, Chung was recognized as Parsons Designer of the Year in 1995, and was the winner of both the CFDA Swarovski Perry Ellis Award and Vogue Fashion Fund Award in 2006. In 2011, Chung dressed First Lady Michelle Obama for a White House state dinner with President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, with a vivid plum-colored, one-shouldered jersey gown, adapted from a runway look, and accented with a turquoise beaded belt. Last year, she was also the featured designer for Macy’s Impulse department.
“I’ve long admired the [Vince] brand because of its loyal customer following and its modern design sensibility,” said Chung, who was unavailable for further comment. Karen Harvey handled the search for the creative director at Vince.
Over the course of the past eight months, Granoff has hired several executives to strengthen the management ranks. At Vince, Beth Cohn was named senior vice president of retail; Jill Steinberg was tapped senior vice president of women’s wholesale; Marc Carver became vice president of men’s wholesale, and Jennifer Pohland joined as vice president of finance. Rebecca Damavandi was named group president of global business development at Kellwood, and Lisa Klinger was appointed chief financial officer for Kellwood and Vince. Klinger has had recent experience with a retail IPO, having previously been executive vice president and cfo of The Fresh Market Inc., where she earned high marks for her handling of the firm’s 2010 stock market listing.
Kellwood’s third-quarter earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes, amortization and restructuring increased 13.8 percent to $19.8 million from $17.4 million a year earlier. Sales for the three months rose 3.6 percent to $215.5 million from $208 million. Vince is considered Kellwood’s financial engine. The brand is estimated to have about $60 million in EBITDA on sales of $225 million to $250 million.
According to Granoff, top priorities will be to continue to expand and elevate the product assortment; maximize the business with key retail partners, and accelerate the retail and e-commerce growth. The company is currently relaunching the Vince Web site and believes it can double the freestanding store count in the next three years. There are presently 19 full-price boutiques and three outlet stores. Vince also plans to develop its licensing and international business, will open more shops-in-shop in the U.K. and Canada and roll out shops in Asia.