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Richard Cohen Exits Robert Talbott

Robb Talbott, chairman and son of company founders, has reassumed control of the privately held men's wear firm.

A look from Robert Talbott.

There’s been a changing of the guard at Robert Talbott, which has hired Financo to explore strategic alternatives.

Richard Cohen has exited as president and chief executive officer, and Robb Talbott, chairman, majority shareholder and son of company founders Robert and Audrey Talbott, has reassumed day-to-day control of the privately held Carmel, Calif.-based men’s and women’s wear firm.

“We’re going to redirect our energies and bring the company back to the core concepts that my parents started,” Robb Talbott told WWD in a telephone interview from his primary business, Talbott Vineyards. “That is important for our customers, employees and myself as the largest shareholder.”

He said there are no plans to replace Cohen as president and the only change he made was to elevate John Moran, vice president of operations, to chief operating officer.

“My dad was my mentor,” he said. “He was a common sense guy and I will use his methods to build this company. I’m an artist and a winemaker, but the tie business is in my blood.”

At the same time, Gilbert Harrison, chairman of Financo Inc., confirmed market reports that his office has the offering memorandum for the company. “Yes, Financo is working with the company to determine strategic alternatives,” he said, declining to comment further.

Sources said the business was close to being sold to Hampshire Group, but the deal didn’t come together. Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. was also believed to have been interested at one point, sources said.

Talbott confirmed the business had been for sale and an offer was turned down. He said there is still “a lot of interest in it. But we’re going to get back to basics and get back to running the company as if it’s not for sale. We’re putting that way on the back burner.”

He also said the company’s New York store will close at the end of April but that is due to the landlord converting the building from commercial to residential use. “It was too small for us, so we’re happy to let that go,” he said. “But we need a presence in New York and we will find another location when the time is right.”

Regarding the company’s large showroom on Fifth Avenue, Talbott said it’s “bigger than we need, so we’re looking at options,” which could include bringing in another tenant to use a portion of the space.

He said he will continue to produce the men’s ties and shirts as well as the AST women’s collection. Regarding the tailored clothing, he said: “We got into made-to-measure early and some mistakes were made. We foresee continuing that, but we have to be careful.” The men’s sportswear offering will also be “evaluated” after talking to customers, he said.

In fact, Talbott said he is in the process of handwriting notes to every Robert Talbott customer in the U.S., detailing the company’s appreciation for their support. Those notes will go out this week, he said.

Cohen, who had success running Ermenegildo Zegna’s North American business and also had a short stint at St. John, joined Talbott as a consultant in 2006. He was named ceo the following year. In a telephone interview, Cohen said his goal at Talbott was “to evolve the company into a leading men’s and women’s brand. But then we ran headlong into the recession. It wasn’t something that we planned, but as president and ceo, it happened on my watch. We weren’t as successful as we had hoped and I take full responsibility for that.”

Cohen said he’ll take some time off before deciding what his next step will be. “It’s been a really difficult last six to nine months, so I will take some time to enjoy my children and determine what I’ll do next.” That will undoubtedly include a move back to the East Coast, he said.

The firm, which was founded in 1950 and reportedly had sales of more than $40 million at its peak, has seen sales slip to just more than $30 million.