In what he expects to be the final brand-building exercise in a career as a serial entrepreneur, Jeffrey Rudes is plotting his comeback.
This story first appeared in the April 1, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But unlike the pace-setting premium women’s jeans line J Brand he introduced almost 10 years ago, he’s following a different roadmap with the new venture, a luxury men’s wear brand called Jeffrey Rüdes with headquarters in Los Angeles and a design and production studio in Bologna, Italy.
Rudes is financing the business entirely by himself, although he could bring in other investors if the pace of expansion warrants it. “I knew going in that it would be a costly venture and I wasn’t afraid of it,” he said.
While J Brand focused on a wholesale model, the roots of Jeffrey Rüdes will be at retail. A two-story, 5,800-square-foot store, located at 57 Greene Street in New York’s SoHo, will open July 1, coinciding with the launch of the brand’s Web site, at jeffreyrudes.com, and what Rudes said will be a vigorous social media presence.
“I believe in the area and I believe in the space,” he told WWD. “And I believe that any brand that’s looking to grow and be relevant today needs social media.”
He described the duration of the lease as long-term but didn’t specify its length.
While Rudes earned his reputation primarily through women’s wear and juniors ventures, culminating in J Brand’s breakthrough success in premium denim, he’s long aspired to move into the men’s business.
“I knew five years ago that I would finish my career doing luxury men’s wear, and my vision for this goes back 10 years,” said 57-year-old Rudes, who resigned as chief executive officer of J Brand last May following its sale, and the sale of his remaining stake, to Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. Fast acquired control of 80.1 percent of J Brand for $300 million in December 2012.
The jeans selection will be small — three styles in two different finishes — and at least to start there will be no other bottoms in the collection.
Instead, the line will be highlighted by a wide assortment of blazers and shearling and black leather outerwear.
“Women get emotional about their jeans,” he noted. “I feel the one article in a man’s wardrobe that’s like that is the jacket, where the man’s personality really comes out.”
Blazers so far include peak and notch lapels in both single- and double-breasted models as well as a shawl-collar silhouette.
While providing variations on previous seasons’ fashion themes, he will stress continuity, noting that just a handful of designers and designer companies — including Prada, Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and his favorite designer and fashion brand-builder, Ralph Lauren — do a “very good job of repeating the essentials.”
He’s planning on adding what he called “one-of-a-kind suits” in the spring, is contemplating footwear and has plans to expand on his shirting selection.
“You never know,” he mused. “At this point, I’m not saying no to anything.”
He’s working with mills in England, Italy and Japan. “It all starts with fabric in men’s, and the fabric is, in a word, modern,” he said.
Rudes noted that the company will offer same-day delivery in the borough of Manhattan and have a tailor on the premises on the weekends.
Pressed on possible avenues for expansion, Rudes noted that, between local customers and tourists, New York provides “the highest spend in luxury” and that he could see another unit or two in Manhattan before expanding to another strong luxury market, such as London. He views a move into wholesale as a natural step, but only after establishing the collection and what he deems to be its proper presentation.
The umlaut in the brand is an acknowledgement of the German town from which his family emigrated, Rüdesheim am Rhein, about 40 miles west of Frankfurt. “And it might help get people to pronounce my name correctly, as two syllables instead of one,” he said.