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Bernie Marks Back in Action

Retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be. Just ask Bernie Marks.

NEW YORK — Retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask Bernie Marks.

Marks and Alex Garfield sold half the Garfield & Marks business to the then-Pegasus Apparel Group in 1998 in a total deal worth $25 million. Marks sold his remaining 25 percent in the business for $5 million in 2003, and decided to retire to Florida. But he quickly grew tired of leisure and longed for the challenges of business.

Retirement is “utopia, but I am too active for it,” Marks, 68, recalled. “I really loved what I did. Building Garfield & Marks with Alex Garfield was a very satisfying thing. I missed it terribly….When you get bored, you start to dissipate…you don’t function like you do when in business.”

Marks decided to return and try to build another brand. He created the Marks Apparel Group, where he is president and chief executive officer. Under that umbrella, Marks is launching the B.Marks label for better specialty store bridge departments.

In February, he hired Krista Criswell as the line’s vice president and creative director. Criswell had her own handbag collection called Jaunty, and before that was a director of design and merchandising at Garfield & Marks [which has since been bought by Jones Texas Inc. and renamed GarfieldMarks]. Criswell also worked in product development and merchandising at Donna Karan, and in production at Calvin Klein.

“A lot of things inspire me,” Criswell said. “Sometimes it could be a moody photograph or a color combination. I love Europe and I love everything old. If I could travel back in time, I would.”

By contrast, the B.Marks collection has contemporary urban influences with items such as green pants featuring a fine orange stripe and large exterior pockets, casual linen pants, wide-knit sweaters and tie-dyed suede jackets.

“Everything in the market was overly embellished,” Criswell said, admitting her personal preference for less-adorned yet sexy looks by the likes of Gucci. “Women with less than a perfect body should be able to get this feel at a lesser price.”

Marks added, “In Florida, you see so many different body types. The concept of B.Marks is really to fit a woman 35 and older who may not be able to get into Theory. We try to get her the right fit with a modern look.”

The intent is to distribute the collection in bridge departments at Nordstrom and select specialty stores. The collection had its soft launch for fall, and will launch fully for spring. Wholesale prices range from $50 to $175.

Asked who the target customer would be, Criswell said: “She is probably a professional woman, 35 and over, a woman who wants to look stylish, feel comfortable and not look foolish.”

Karen Katzman, sales executive for the label, said in the first year, the company is projecting $3 million in wholesale sales. Within seven years, Marks said that he hoped to make B.Marks a $50 million business.

“I am fortunate I am back in something I love and my whole life has taken yet another turn,” Marks said. “To be able to do something again is wonderful.”