NEW YORK — As Tory Burch gets set to unveil her fall collection at Avery Fisher Hall today, she could be taking a step closer to another major move: introducing men’s.
Burch has lured Jeffrey Uhl away from Coach Inc., where he was a key member of the team that grew the brand’s men’s business to sales that are currently approaching $700 million. Once on board at Burch, Uhl is said to be taking on both women’s and men’s accessories. He is expected to start in a few weeks.
A spokeswoman for Burch declined comment Monday, as did Uhl.
But sources said Burch could launch men’s accessories as soon as next year. If so, the designer is entering one of the fast-growing markets in fashion — and an increasingly competitive one. In addition to Coach, brands from Jack Spade to Berluti to Michael Kors are expanding their men’s accessories businesses as well as men’s sportswear and tailoring. Coach has identified the men’s market as one of its key growth areas under new executive creative director Stuart Vevers. He has brought on Keith Warren, who oversaw the men’s business at Louis Vuitton and worked with Vevers on men’s at Loewe.
Burch has mentioned in passing her potential interest in developing a men’s collection, perhaps drawing inspiration from her late father Buddy Robinson’s style.
Uhl also has plenty of experience in the men’s arena. His role at Coach is senior vice president/creative director of men’s design, a post he has held for nearly four years. Prior to that, he served as creative director for Converse, which could ultimately serve Burch well in her activewear pursuits. His résumé also includes stints in design at Gap Inc. and Tommy Hilfiger. After starting his career at Details magazine as a fashion editor, Uhl worked for J. Crew for seven years and exited as men’s design director. He later held that same post at Levi Strauss & Co.
Men’s accessories would become another leg in the fast-growing Burch business, which began with women’s ready-to-wear, handbags, other accessories and footwear — and last year added fragrance under a license with the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. The fragrance was one of the year’s bestsellers at Bloomingdale’s, where it launched.
Burch is also said to be developing an activewear line, with the goal of launching it next year. The designer has hired Gigi Mortimer to help develop the collection, which sources have said could have a freestanding retail component. Mortimer has served as design director of accessories at Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren and also launched her own accessories and clothing line, Glamourpuss.
Introducing accessories first as entrée into the men’s market would follow the strategy taken by Coach and, later, by Jack Spade. Coach has since expanded its men’s collection to include not only leather goods but also select outerwear, watches, sunglasses and fragrance. Jack Spade, part of the soon-to-be named Kate Spade & Co., last week showed its fall collection, which included a major push into tailored clothing.
Then there’s Michael Kors, which continues to grow at double-digit rates and is being watched by not only Wall Street but many other designers for its fast growth and market capitalization of more than $18 billion. Men’s wear will have its own dedicated space at the Kors flagship opening in SoHo here next year and the company has recently opened a 500-square-foot men’s accessories shop in Macy’s Herald Square. Kors also is introducing a men’s fragrance next year.
The move into men’s also comes as there continues to be speculation that Burch eventually plans an initial public offering, although the designer has repeatedly said there is no time frame for an IPO and that she is happy to remain private with several shareholders. Burch herself remains the largest single shareholder in her brand with 28.3 percent, while her former husband Christopher Burch also has a significant stake. Investment firms BDT Capital Partners LLC and General Atlantic LLC made minority investments in the brand in 2012.