NEW YORK — Richard Cohen, who has been president of Ermenegildo Zegna North America for the past 16 years, is headed to St. John Knits as chief executive officer, WWD has learned.
Cohen confirmed Wednesday he was leaving Zegna, but declined to comment on where he was headed. “I got a fabulous opportunity,” he said, adding he plans to leave Zegna when his successor is found.
St. John, the Irvine, Calif.-based manufacturer of women’s apparel and accessories, is majority owned by Vestar Capital Partner, with the Gray family owning a minority stake. Neither Vestar officials nor Kelly Gray and Bruce Fetter, current co-ceo’s of St. John, were available for comment. However, sources close to Cohen confirmed his new job.
While St. John is strictly a women’s business, Zegna does the lion’s share of its business — 85 percent — in men’s wear, and the remainder in women’s apparel under its Agnona brand. Both St. John and Zegna, however, compete in the luxury sector of the market and have been run by family members.
During Cohen’s tenure at Zegna, the North American operation grew its sales to $175 million from $15 million. He was responsible for such brands as Zegna, Zegna Sport, Z Zegna and Agnona. He also established a solid retail business for the company, opening 10 Zegna stores in the U.S.
Prior to joining Zegna, Cohen ran the wholesale division of Burberry for 10 years.
St. John, which went public in 1993 at $17 a share, was a Wall Street favorite for its first years, but in 1998, missed estimates for several quarters. Robert Gray, founder and chairman at the time, found himself answering to analysts and making changes to meet investors’ demands that he felt compromised St. John’s integrity. In 1999, he struck a stock buyout deal valued at about $520 million to take the firm private, with funding from Vestar Capital.
In June 2001, Gray said he planned to retire the following January and fully turn over the company’s operations to H.W. Mullins, the former chairman and ceo of Neiman Marcus Stores, who joined St. John in January 2001 as ceo. However, Mullins abruptly resigned in October 2001 and Gray postponed his retirement indefinitely to groom his daughter, Kelly, the firm’s longtime creative director, and Fetter, St. John’s chief operating officer, to jointly take over the ceo post. According to sources in the women’s sector, it is believed St. John recently has been searching for a professional manager and merchant to steer the firm.