OUDEJANS: A FRIENDLY EXIT FROM TOCCA FOR OTHER PATHS
Byline: Miles Socha
NEW YORK — Facing life after Tocca, the fashion house she built and then suddenly exited last month, Marie-Anne Oudejans is smiling and eager to pursue new design projects, everything from hotels to stationery.
“I believe you can do many things in life,” the 33-year-old said in an interview with WWD. “I feel more happy and relaxed than ever with this decision, and I have no bad feelings at all. I have so many other things I would love to do, and I would rather put my energy into those.”
Back from a 10-day vacation in Udaipur, India, Oudejans spoke for the first time about her unexpected decision to leave the four-year-old sportswear and ready-to-wear firm, best known for its simple shift dresses.
Oudejans said she plans to sell her interest in the company to her business partners, Eduardo Mantelli, president of Tocca, and Gordon Finkelstein, vice president, and she engaged a lawyer to negotiate the transaction.
She declined to specify her stake in the business, saying only, “I have a lot of shares.”
But she stressed that she harbors no ill feelings toward her partners and she wishes them well in continuing to build the Tocca business, which currently generates wholesale volume of about $10 million.
“There was absolutely no fighting, no anger,” she said, seated outside Les Deux Gamins cafe in Greenwich Village here in a frilly pink sundress. “There is nothing in me that wants to destroy Tocca. I said thank you and good luck.”
Oudejans, who speaks in a passionate, rapid-fire style, was loath to discuss in precise terms what made her decide to bid farewell to a company into which she had channeled so much energy.
Disputing some popular theories, she said she was not afraid of the fashion world, nor of the business growing. What’s more, creative control was not a problem.
But she intimated that the environment at Tocca was becoming tangled with small issues she would rather escape than confront.
“I felt that it would become something I wouldn’t believe in so much,” she said. “If I don’t feel something, I can’t do it. It was a very personal decision. I definitely follow my heart, and I’m very honest with myself. I’m replaceable.”
She said she felt that if she stayed, “I would lose part of my friendships with people. I don’t want to scream 24 hours a day. I don’t want to become cold.
“It’s not that I think my partners were wrong. I’m not accusing them of that,” she stressed. “I know how much they love Tocca. I respect that. I can give them that. Because I know there’s other things I can do. I don’t want to do anything to hurt or overstep Tocca.”
Oudejans also stressed her decision to leave was made independent of her high-profile colleagues at Tocca, Anne McNally and Samantha Kluge Cahan, who left the company the same week.
McNally was to head Tocca Dress, a made-to-measure eveningwear division. And as reported, Kluge Cahan, who had been director of Tocca’s beauty division, returned to Cosmopolitan as beauty editor.
Dutch-born Oudejans got her start in the business working as a fashion stylist in Paris. Shortly after moving to New York, she launched business with a simple, sleeveless sundress decorated with intricate embroidery.
Today, Tocca products are distributed in the U.K., America, Germany and Asia. The brand now includes women’s wear, children’s wear, accessories, fragrance and bed and bath products.
Since she announced her resignation, Oudejans said she has spurned offers from investors to back a new apparel venture. She also has been approached about design posts at several European and American fashion houses.
She said she plans to investigate some of those options, but intends to stay away from fashion for at least a year, so as not to hurt Tocca.
“In the long term, maybe I will do something like that,” she said. “There are definitely houses I love, but it’s not the right timing yet. To say I want to be the new Tom Ford — I’m not in that position and it would be pretentious to say that.”
Instead, Oudejans plans to set up a color and design consulting business based here. Pending trademark registration, it will be called Loch-Ness.
Under that banner, she wants to create everything from luggage and ceramics to scarves and jewelry. But none of it under her own name.
She’s also keen to create a new concept in hotels for Africa and Asia, in which she would combine elements of the native culture with modern and luxurious amenities.
Meanwhile, Mantelli said he’s putting together a new design team at Tocca, confident that he will be able to build on a strong brand name.
But he expressed regret over Oudejans’s departure.
“It’s a pity for me because I shared the four most incredible years of my life,” he said. “The future holds incredible opportunities for our brand, and I’m sorry Marie-Anne won’t be here to share it with us. But I respect her decision. She probably has two zillion ideas in her mind.”