House president Jean-Jacques Wegnez told WWD Tuesday that he has tapped 33-year-old Laetitia Hecht of France to spearhead a plan to grow sales 20 percent per year over the next five years.
Hecht, relatively unknown outside her homeland where she started an eponymous women’s collection six years ago, will present her first Laroche runway show at the Petit Palais on Wednesday, March 13.
The top design position at Laroche has been a revolving door in recent years. Alber Elbaz, who designed for the house from 1996 to 1998, caught the fashion industry’s eye with his feminine designs, but the house has struggled since. Ronald van der Kemp, who lasted only one season, and Sophie Sitbon preceded Mei Zaio Zhou, former Thierry Mugler designer, in Elbaz’s wake. Zhou, whom Hecht succeeds, showed the last of his two collections for the house in October.
“The main problem at Laroche in recent years has been the lack of design continuity,” said Wegnez. “We want to build an identity. Laetitia’s contract is for five years. It will last for five years, no matter the hurdles we face at the get-go.”
As reported, Rech International, managed by the Geneva-based private equity firm Leman Capital, purchased Laroche from French pen and razor giant Bic in December.
Wegnez, who also serves as president of Rech, said Rech targeted Laroche for its notoriety in America. “The name is strong, but it is a clean slate,” he said. “It’s a flag that we can raise in the U.S. and, by putting the right product in place, build a business.”
Wholesale sales for Laroche-branded products were about $135 million last year. More than $61 million of that came from fragrances, which are licensed to L’Oreal and headlined by the men’s scent Drakkar. The house counts about 90 licensed products, from men’s and women’s underwear to eyeglasses and handkerchiefs.
Hecht fist came to Wegnez’s attention last year. After visiting her 600-square-foot shop on the Left Bank here, he hired her secretly to start working on Laroche. He even tested her retail clout by buying 1,000 pieces from her collection and re-branding them as Georges Rech; they were sold in Rech shops in Germany.
Hecht’s business, also acquired by Rech, will be phased out. Her shop will be transformed into a Laroche unit. Laroche has three stand-alone stores, including a flagship on the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore here.
Hecht described the style she will pursue at Laroche as “soft, festive and exuberant.”
“When you analyze the market, there are too many brands doing structured clothes,” said Wegnez. “I want Laroche to be the other side of the coin; it will be softer, feminine and sensual.”
Meanwhile, Wegnez said, Rech intends to make further acquisitions. “We would like a brand known for its prints and one known for its knitwear,” he said, declining to identify potential targets.
Rech’s strategy is to open shops, or use existing Rech units, to distribute the brands it accumulates. Already the group has begun selling Laroche ready-to-wear in Rech shops in Germany.
Rech, a moderate sportswear line, has 21 wholly owned stores and 28 franchise units across Europe. Sales for the brand last year were about $160 million.
“We want to create multibrand stores that we control to distribute our brands,” said Wegnez. “It’s a way to make profitable the big investment required to operate a big store in a capital city.”