Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — “We were trying to be too cheap, too L.A.-market driven,” said Jay Margolis, the new chairman and chief executive officer of Esprit de Corp. “I want to be looking at what Donna Karan and Calvin Klein are doing, and be influenced by that market.”
Margolis was here earlier this month to stump for the San Francisco-based junior apparel manufacturer, which is struggling to regain a consistent share of its market.
Although he’d been part of a deal to buy the bridge powerhouse label Ellen Tracy before opting for the Esprit post in January, Margolis said the abrupt switch to the West Coast hasn’t been too unsettling.
“I’ve only been in the post for six weeks, but I’ve already bought an apartment in San Francisco,” Margolis said during a cocktail party celebrating the launch of the fall apparel and accessories collections, as well as Esprit’s 28-year history.
He hasn’t had much time to use it, he said, because he’s been traveling to destinations as far apart as Hong Kong and Dusseldorf, Germany, to meet with Esprit employees and suppliers.
“I learned that there’s a huge void between the junior market and the better,” said Margolis, talking about the company’s decision to firmly position Esprit as a junior resource with touches of contemporary.
Esprit has had a difficult couple of years, as it tried to find a focus. One of the moves it made was to close the Susie Tompkins bridge line this year and include some of those styles in the signature collection. It currently does about $300 million in consolidated wholesale sales — down from $400 million at its peak in 1990.
Margolis said he’s especially thankful that Esprit’s retailers “have really hung in there” through the line’s changes.
“But now we want to have our own look and be consistent. We’re focused on the consumer. My favorite speech to the company — and they’re probably all sick of hearing it by now — is that I only care about one person, the consumer.”
Esprit founder and owner Susie Tompkins also attended the cocktail party with her daughter, accessories designer Summer Tompkins, and her Jack Russell terrier, Gracie. Tompkins said Margolis has taken over all the daily responsibilities that she had overseen in the company’s San Francisco headquarters.
“Now, I’m putting all my focus on getting the President reelected,” said Tompkins, a long-time political activist.

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