NEW MAN COURTING U.S. WOMEN
Byline: Shirliey Fung
NEW YORK — Come April, a new man will be in charge of U.S. operations for the French-based apparel firm New Man.
Jean-Christian Vacher has been named executive vice president of the U.S. division of the better sportswear resource. He will report to Christian Iscovici, general director of New Man International, based in Paris.
When Vacher assumes his post next month, he will be taking over duties as head of U.S. operations from Robert Taylor, who spent six years with the company and left earlier this year to pursue other opportunities.
Vacher began his career in the textile industry and then held various executive positions at Yves Saint Laurent and Claude Montana. Most recently, he was general manager of CL Modes Paris, a subsidiary of Mendes, the licensee of Christian Lacroix ready-to-wear.
Founded in 1967 as a men’s sportswear line, New Man launched its women’s line in 1974. The firm also sells children’s apparel under the Miniman label. Still overwhelmingly a European label, the firm takes in 85 percent of its revenue from the Continent and the remaining 15 percent from North American sales.
The privately held firm, with sales of $91 million based on current exchange rates, suffered financially in the early Eighties and underwent restructuring pains from 1985 to 1993, when it shifted from owning its own factories to having partnerships with manufacturing plants.
“It allowed us to reduce our cost and get back in the competition,” said Iscovici of the internal changes. The company returned to profitability in 1995.
Although Vacher will not take over the U.S. reins for another month, he is already prepping for the role. His first plan of action is to familiarize himself with the competition and to learn the distinguishing characteristics of the American customer.
“Everywhere in the world we are quite successful. In the States, we don’t have the success we should have. Maybe something is lax in the collection, maybe some things are missing in the collection.” he said. “[We can be successful] if we understand where we are lacking and if we understand what we have to bring specifically to the American market.”
Vacher is using trade shows such as WWDMAGIC and Fashion Coterie as his training ground, where he is taking a tutorial from his retailers.
“Almost every customer said that New Man has great fabric, great cut, great fit, but in some cases we don’t have enough lightweight fabric,” he said. “It’s a question of the climate in Florida and California,” which are much warmer than most of Europe.
Vacher said he is also looking to attract a younger customer. To this end, he admits that his work is cut out for him.
“In Europe, maybe it’s a little bit easier because we are stronger,” he said. “The mentality in Europe is different than the mentality in the United States. The competition [here] is huge. It’s always a question of image and advertising.”
For now, the cost of advertising is prohibitive, and Vacher would like to first focus on laying down a foundation composed of “a stronger collection and stronger distribution.”
In the U.S., New Man can currently be found in 200 specialty stores, but no department store doors. Getting into the latter is a priority.
“We’re hoping to be in department stores within the year,” said Iscovici. “I’d like to develop a long-term partnership with one good department store instead of being in all of them.”
New Man will also focus on growing business within the specialty stores it already sources. On average, the company has a 10 to 15 percent line saturation in stores. Iscovici would like to see that number rise to 20 to 25 percent.
Despite the brand’s popularity in Europe, particularly in France, the label has yet to become a household name in America. Under his direction, Vacher hopes to change that, as well increase the attention given to the women’s division.
“New Man has always been a men’s brand more than a women’s brand. In the last five years, we’ve been experiencing very good growth,” he said. “I think it’s rather important to see that the brand offers something that is special to the woman.”
Right now, the women’s line brings in 35 percent of sales. Iscovici hopes to grow that figure to 40 percent in the next couple of years. He feels the men’s and women’s lines will eventually be evenly broken down. About 15 to 20 percent of the items sold are distinctive to the U.S. market, mainly golfing apparel.
Iscovici said the company will also focus on expanding its retail presence.
“For the last three years, we have really decided to instill New Man in the United States. Ideally, we’d like to be around seven to eight stores in three years and have 10 stores in five years,” said Iscovici.
Currently, the company operates four units, in Boca Raton and Aventura Mall in Aventura, Fla.; Costa Mesa, Calif., and most recently, a new unit in Tyson’s Galleria, in McLean, Va.
Iscovici said that the firm will not rush its expansion efforts, however, and it will wait until the current stores reach sales of $1 million each — the two newest units in Costa Mesa and McLean presently bring in $500,000 to $600,000.
Future locations are being scouted in Boston, Chicago and Manhattan.