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NEW YORK — The Tommy Hilfiger Group today named John Ermatinger chief executive officer of the company’s Asia business, a newly created role that underscores the region as a key opportunity of future growth for the brand.

This story first appeared in the July 28, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Ermatinger, who starts Monday and will be based at Tommy Hilfiger’s Hong Kong offices, was most recently president of Gap Asia Pacific, and, before that, president of Gap Japan. Prior to joining Gap, he was general manager of Asia Pacific Apparel and Asia Hub director of global apparel sourcing at Nike Inc. He also spent more than 25 years at Levi Strauss & Co., rising to the post of president of Levi Strauss, The Americas.

Fred Gehring, ceo of the Tommy Hilfiger Group, cited several reasons Ermatinger was the top candidate for the role. “It’s the combination of his successful hands-on experience in Asia, particularly in Japan and, more recently, China, with his broad experience in the industry, ranging from sales, merchandising, general management, sourcing and production to marketing,” Gehring told WWD.

“He has shown and demonstrated that he knows how to tweak and adjust product to the market while maintaining the DNA and core values of the brand,” he added, citing Ermatinger’s work for Gap Japan as an example.

Ermatinger, who reports directly to Gehring, will spearhead all of Tommy Hilfiger’s business activities in Asia, including the Japanese subsidiary, a joint venture in China, and several licensing arrangements that exist in the region.

“I believe that the Tommy Hilfiger core brand DNA makes it very attractive to the youthful Asian market and that the base from which we will be working is already quite significant through the territory,” Ermatinger said. “There is a great opportunity for significant growth.”

Asia currently represents more than 10 percent of total retail sales for the brand, and about $500 million in retail value. Tommy Hilfiger currently has more than 400 retail locations across Asia.

The division of PVH Corp. already operates organizations in the U.S. and Europe “with dedicated management, product propositions and marketing initiatives,” Gehring said. “Meanwhile, in Asia, where you have equally if not more market potential, we have a subsidiary, a joint venture, we have licenses and it tends to be more reactive.

“I believe the markets are growing so substantially and progressively that the consumer base is becoming more sophisticated; the competition is becoming more important and the local, domestic competition is becoming wiser,” Gehring added. “The days you can successfully market in anything other than in a highly proactive, engaged manner are over. If we want to do justice to the potential we have [in Asia], we have to pick up the effort and take it proactively seriously.”

Ermatinger’s hire is the latest in a serious of moves to take a more direct approach to growing the Tommy Hilfiger business in Asia. In March 2010, the brand cut a deal with then-licensee Dickson Concepts International Ltd. to assume direct control of its Chinese wholesale and retail business. It became effective this March.

Tommy Hilfiger is also planning to open a three-level, 10,946-square-foot store flagship on the corner of Omotesando Avenue and Meiji Dori in Tokyo next spring.

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