Neal J. Fox is stepping down as president and chief executive officer of Mark Cross, America’s first luxury leather goods brand, which he revived over the past seven years.
The company is expected to announce a successor soon.
“We took what was a storied but lost American luxury brand and brought it back to life,” Fox said. “We have built a global distribution of over 75 retailers worldwide. We have built a design vernacular based on the archives of the brand, but with a distinctly modern viewpoint and, most importantly, we have reminded the affluent global customer that there is a real place in the world for distinctly American luxury.
“I will still be here in an advisory capacity to guide the brand and look forward to staying close to the future success of Mark Cross.”
Fox added that he will also be looking at new opportunities, while helping to transition in the new ceo at Mark Cross.
Mark Cross is owned by GF Capital, which bought the brand, including its intellectual property and operations from Fox and other owners in the business about three years ago.
The brand dates to 1845 when it was founded as a harness, saddle and bridle business by Henry Cross who immigrated from Ireland to Boston and named the business after his son Mark. It shifted to luxury leather goods around the turn of the last century and was the only game in town for its category until decades later when Hermès, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other European luxury brands started selling American stores. The brand has often been referred to as “the Hermès of America.”
Grace Kelly was seen opening a Mark Cross overnight bag in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie “Rear Window,” revealing her lingerie for the night. Contemporary stars such as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry have been seen carrying Mark Cross.
Through its history, Mark Cross had several owners, including Gerald and Sara Murphy who inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night” in the Twenties, and the Sara Lee company, which put the brand to rest in the Nineties to focus on its other American leather goods brand it owned at the time, Coach.
The big break for Mark Cross came when Barneys New York’s top executives, Mark Lee, the ceo at the time, and Daniella Vitale, the chief merchant who is currently Barneys ceo, visited the Mark Cross showroom at the invitation of Fox. The reaction was practically immediate. “They said they wanted to launch Mark Cross on an exclusive basis and give us real estate in all nine Barneys flagships,” Fox recalled. “That’s the way we got off the ground. The exposure at Barneys helped a lot.” That was spring 2012.
Subsequently, “We really got aggressive about seeking business outside the U.S. and began selling to Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Dover Street Market, Net-a-porter, Matches.com, Mytheresa, Galeries Lafayette and Lane Crawford,” Fox said.
After the Barneys’ exclusivity agreement ran out, other American retailers began carrying the brand including Saks Fifth Avenue, Kirna Zabête, The Line and The Webster.
During his tenure at Mark Cross, Fox also brought product manufacturing back to the same factories in Italy that were used decades before. Last year, an agreement with the Bluebell Group was signed for distribution in Asia, a web site was launched last March with a fuller presentation, and a men’s collection of luxury leather goods with Mr. Porter was unveiled online in spring 2018. The men’s line will begin to be sold at Bergdorf Goodman in spring 2019.
In addition, the company has been scouting sites along Madison Avenue between 57th and 72nd Streets to open a Mark Cross store.
Though relatively small in volume, generating about $10 million in sales, Mark Cross is widely recognized, suggesting much potential. It skews toward a younger demographic of ages 25 to 34, representing more than 40 percent of the business. Thirty-five to 44-year-olds represent about 25 to 30 percent of the clientele. “Customers are responding to the product, the quality and the timeless style. It’s been very rewarding to see,” Fox said.
“I want to thank the entire team for their dedication and hard work and the partners at GF Capital for their belief in our vision,” Fox said. “I look forward to watching our future success as I focus more of my time looking at new entrepreneurial opportunities.”