Jeff Rudes’ absence from the fashion stage will barely qualify as a hiatus.
This story first appeared in the June 11, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Rudes, the founder of J Brand, who stepped down as chief executive officer last month, told WWD he plans to have a new collection ready to launch at retail for fall 2015.
But for reasons ranging from his personal aspirations to what he described as the fairly limited non-compete provisions of his arrangement with Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., which acquired control of J Brand in November 2012 for about $300 million, his next venture won’t be in jeans. And it isn’t likely to be directed at women.
“Denim was the only area where I was limited as far as a non-compete was concerned,” he said, “but it wasn’t where I wanted to go anyway. I’ve had a plan for five years to do what I’m going to do now.”
As for the new collection, he is keeping the details to himself at the moment but acknowledged that it will be directed at men and will have a strong luxury orientation. “I always said about J Brand that it’s about the woman, not the jean,” he pointed out. “The new concept will be about the man and will be directed at the same concept of uniqueness we had with J Brand’s launch and development. Like J Brand, I want to do something that brings out emotion, something that people love to wear.”
Rudes, an entrepreneur who’s been developing and nurturing brands since starting Paris 2000 jeans not long after graduating from high school, might be closely associated with jeans, but he’s comfortably stepped into other product categories during his career. Beginning in the Eighties, he spent nearly a decade heading up Area Code, a junior knit line, and continues to have business interests, as well as personal ties, to a number of enterprises inside and outside of fashion. He recently financed and is actively advising Thinium Technologies, producers of wireless phone chargers that received highly favorable reviews at this January’s CES show.
Rudes had nothing but praise for his former colleagues at Fast Retailing, including Andrew Rosen, a group officer of Fast Retailing and ceo of Theory and Helmut Lang who will serve as J Brand’s interim ceo.
Still, he said nothing to contradict the comments last month of colleagues and competitors who thought that at least some of the emotional attachment he had to J Brand was missing now that it had a new majority owner and, with sportswear in place, was entering a stage in which some of the more predictable elements of brand expansions — such as brick-and-mortar and online retailing and licensing — would be getting much of the attention. Before and since the Fast Retailing acquisition, J Brand had a series of expansion initiatives that had been slow to materialize, including planned entries into retailing, a strength of the brand’s president Lynne Koplin, as well as possible men’s and accessories offerings.
“I thought I’d put in another five years,” he told WWD of his thoughts following the Fast Retailing acquisition during a break between meetings in Thinium’s Los Angeles offices, “but I really wanted to get this new brand going. Fast has lots of integrity and they are great partners, but it is all about expanding with a lot of stores and a lot of new ideas now. I asked myself where I wanted to work the hardest for the rest of my career and the answer was this new concept.”
Rudes declined to comment on details involving his investment in J Brand, which he retained at the time of the Fast Retailing acquisition but which was sold prior to his departure. It isn’t known whether the sale of his minority stake was negotiated as part of Fast Retailing’s purchase or negotiated subsequent to it.
Before immersing himself in the new venture, he said he’s continuing to involve himself in various real estate deals, his investment in Thinium, relationships with numerous fashion firms including L’Agence and other interests.
This summer, he will take his annual family vacation in Mykonos and avail himself of spare time now that he’s actually got some.
“I love the amount of golf I’m playing,” he said.