Ulrik Garde Due, an executive well-known in luxury circles, has become president and chief executive officer of Mark Cross, America’s first luxury leather goods brand.
Garde Due succeeds Neal J. Fox who stepped down earlier this month and was instrumental in reviving the brand over the past seven years.
Garde Due has been in an advisory role at Mark Cross since last summer and is expected to take the brand to new levels of growth. 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.
“There’s a unique DNA to Mark Cross as America’s first luxury accessory brand. The history of the brand is phenomenal, but we need to reenergize the brand and then develop a very clear roadmap strategy,” which he’s begun to work on, Garde Due told WWD on Thursday.
“In this incredibly fast-moving consumer goods arena, the consumer is becoming more and more obsessive about how and where they shop. We need to develop a more consumer-centric approach to servicing our customer. There are really two elements — how we infuse technology and the whole digital approach to the business, and how we need to be much more thorough working with consumer data. We have a great loyal consumer following that we can work much closer with.”
Mark Cross has a brand image and recognition factor that far exceeds its actual volume, said to be around $10 million in annual sales. It’s sold at retailers such as Barneys New York, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Dover Street Market and Net-a-porter.
Garde Due said in a key step to facilitate growth internationally, Mark Cross will open a showroom in Paris on Jan. 19 on Rue Saint-Honoré. Officials at the brand have also been scoping Madison Avenue for a site to open a Mark Cross store. Mark Cross does not operate any stores.
“In addition, I am talking to potential design candidates on collaborations to expand the product portfolio to a more exciting lifestyle profile,” Garde Due said. “It could be for capsule collections or more long-term, but a key objective is to infuse new ideas and innovation to our design.”
Another objective is to “act as a fully responsible brand” that makes sustainability a priority. “In today’s world, it’s very important to show that we can act in a respectful way.” He’s currently chairman of Positive Luxury Ltd., an organization that spotlights brands that have made sustainability a priority and enlightens consumers about them.
Most recently, Garde Due cofounded Sustain A/S, a new digital platform utilizing blockchain technology and being sold to luxury brands seeking to control the full “ecosystem” from the manufacture of products to the point where they reach consumers, he said.
Garde Due, who has been living in London but is relocating to New York where Mark Cross is based, has extensive experience at luxury brands including serving as president of the living division of Fiskars Corp., which operates Wedgewood, Waterford and Royal Doulton and other home labels; ceo of Temperley London, and president and ceo of Georg Jensen. Earlier in his career, he served as senior vice president of Burberry; global director of marketing and sales at Cerruti, and vice president of North America at Celine.
The Mark Cross 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.”