Men’s wear has a new couple: HMX Group and Joseph Abboud.

This story first appeared in the January 21, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On Wednesday, the company said the two-time CFDA award winner will join the concern as president and chief creative officer, where he will oversee all creative direction of the company’s portfolio of brands including Hickey Freeman, Hart Schaffner Marx, Coppley, Bobby Jones, Exclusively Misook, Simply Blue and Monarchy.

“Joseph has successfully been interpreting men’s style and taste for the last 30 years and his sensibilities fit perfectly within the mandate of what we want to achieve with the HMX brands,” said Doug Williams, chief executive officer of HMX Group.

The move marks the company’s most high-profile appointment since it was purchased out of bankruptcy by Emerisque Brands and SKNL North America for $128.4 million last summer. Abboud, who will report to Williams, will be tasked with managing design, marketing and merchandising for HMX’s brands with an immediate focus on Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner Marx — the company’s heritage tailored clothing labels.

“Ever since I spent a week at the Hickey Freeman factory when I was working for Louis of Boston, I have been so impressed with these brands,” Abboud said. “They have some of the greatest names in American apparel, and they just need an evolutionary push. That’s what I’m here do to — not to destroy its DNA, but enhance it.”

The news marks a significant break with HMX’s predecessor, Hartmarx Corp., which ran its business more as an old-guard manufacturer than a marketer of brands and was often criticized for its Byzantine corporate structure in which design between departments was often not complementary.

The formation of a chief creative position not only heralds the company’s interest in streamlining its design processes, but also signals its thirst for executives with both high levels of experience and visibility. Suave and well-liked, Abboud lends the company design credibility. His media savvy, merchandising skill and retail contacts should help burnish the images of the company’s brands.

For Abboud, the job gives him access to brands he’s eyed for some time. Last year, Abboud considered bidding for the bankrupt Hartmarx, whose venerable, if diminished, men’s brands were a draw. Though the designer and his investors lost the opportunity to take direct control of the company, he will now have the chance to shape the future of HMX, which in addition to its tailored clothing businesses also operates contemporary sportswear brand Monarchy, golf luxury label Bobby Jones, denim brand Simply Blue, custom suit business Coppley and women’s knit brand Exclusively Misook.

“I’m looking forward to working with Doug to focus on the existing portfolio and be disciplined in nurturing these businesses in the right way,” said Abboud, who will not take an ownership stake in the company but will have a vested interest in the company’s success, according to Williams.

The development represents the next stage in Abboud’s extended comeback. The designer sold his namesake company in 2000 and reentered the market in fall 2008 with a new men’s wear line, Jaz. That same year, Abboud partnered with Lord & Taylor to head design for a new private label men’s collection called Black Brown 1826.

It’s unclear how the appointment impacts Abboud’s other business ventures including Jaz, which could fold its operations into the HMX umbrella. Abboud’s contract for Black Brown runs through the end of July and the designer said he is interested in continuing the relationship.

The development comes on the heels of a court ruling last week that allows Abboud to use his name for limited commercial purposes. That decision, which began as a trademark infringement case in 2008 when JA Apparel sued the designer for the latter’s planned use of his name in connection with Jaz, likely permits Abboud to use his name in his new role at HMX. It is still unclear, however, how the company will leverage the ruling.

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