Robert Talbott is in a rare position.
Despite a decade of upheaval that has included changes in ownership, a revolving door of top executives and a number of attempted reinventions, the brand has managed to maintain a strong reputation in the menswear industry.
And it’s a legacy that Newtimes Brands will seek to exploit when it relaunches the Robert Talbott label this spring.
Newtimes, a 60-year-old privately owned supply-chain management firm based in Hong Kong, quietly purchased the trademark, domain name and certain inventory for the brand from Hilco Streambank in April 2021 following an auction. Terms were not disclosed.
Since the sale, Newtimes Brands’ chief executive officer Alex Angelchik, who has 30 years of experience in product development and sourcing at Russell Athletic and at Newtimes for the past 17 years, and Nick Picchione, formerly of Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Giorgio Armani, have spent countless hours combing through the brand’s archives and creating a collection that references the past but with a modern aesthetic.
Now, they’re finally ready to emerge from the shadows. On Jan. 19, Robert Talbott will launch a direct-to-consumer site, and the following week, the brand will begin testing the wholesale waters again by showing the inaugural spring line at the PGA Show in Florida.
Although Newtimes’ primary business is a private label manufacturer for other brands, the privately owned corporation, which lands $2 billion in goods in North America each year, has begun acquiring its own stable of companies in recent years including Ashworth Golf, Coldwater Creek, Bike Athletic, Brass Clothing and Encore by Idina Menzel.
But it’s Robert Talbott that is taking center stage right now.
Before Newtimes purchased it, the Robert Talbott brand had been owned by Relevant Brands Holdings. It was founded by Robert and Audrey Talbott who left the East Coast with their son Robb in 1950 and moved to Carmel, California, where they started a business based on Audrey Talbott’s skill creating handcrafted silk neckwear. The company expanded into furnishings, men’s made-to-measure tailored clothing, knitwear, sportswear, leathers and womenswear. Robert Talbott died in 1986 and Audrey ran the business until her death in 2004, when it was passed to Robb. However, Robb Talbott was a winemaker rather than an apparel operator, and he turned to others to run the brand.
The brand went through a series of veteran CEOs and a retail expansion before hitting major bumps, reducing staff and closing its headquarters and manufacturing facility in Monterey, California. Eventually, Robb Talbott sold the business to Relevant, which attempted to relaunch it in 2019, but those plans were squashed by the pandemic.
Hilco’s sale to Newtimes brings to a close an ugly chapter in the Robert Talbott history and the brand’s new owner has high hopes that it can once again regain its footing.
In an exclusive interview with WWD, Angelchik said many of Robert Talbott’s core specialty store customers have either gone out of business, consolidated or simply found other labels to replace it in their mix. But they have fond memories of the label.
“People were still asking for it, but they missed the opportunity to move with the times,” Angelchik said of the brand. Picchione added: “But the spirit of the brand still resonates with people.”
As part of the purchase, Newtimes acquired 200 boxes of archival materials including books of fabrics, binders with images from each collection and even personal letters from the founders. Angelchik said the goal since Day One has been to maintain the brand integrity but to modernize and evolve it to make it relevant to today’s man.
That included tweaking the fit, cleaning up the design and establishing an ethos centered around the brand’s California heritage. “That’s where we saw the white space,” Angelchik said. He pointed to brands such as Vince and James Perse as potential competitors but said Robert Talbott will be distinct because of its association with California.
“Everything was oversize,” Picchione said. “Now it’s not tight or skinny. And it’s polished and neat. We’ve sourced in some of the best facilities in Europe. We’ve emphasized craftsmanship and fine fabrics which the brand has always been known for, but we updated the silhouettes and styles to be more casual. The collection has a California attitude in that everything is easy to wear and layers nicely.”
The launch collection will feature an edited assortment of relaxed foundational pieces meant to be worn year-round and layered. Shirts make up the core of the collection and most styles are casual. A small number of dress shirts, branded Estate, are also being offered as a nod to the brand’s heritage. Bottoms include stretch cotton five-pockets, brushed chinos and a couple of elevated joggers. Tops include fine-gauge merino quarter-zips and crewnecks, textured cotton sweaters and polos. A small assortment of outerwear will also be offered, including an unlined hopsack blazer, a lightweight bomber and a puffer vest.
There are subtle branding elements that include hints of gold on the necks of the shirts and knitwear intended to reference the California sun, and a new logo of a California mountain lion in gold against a blue background. The gold also appears on placket button thread and front bottom horizontal buttonholes, the waistband inlays on chinos and five-pocket pants and locker loops and for interior pocket trim on blazers and outerwear.
The launch campaign was shot in Malibu by Roger Neve as another way to cement the brand’s California heritage. “At every touchpoint we want to express that this is the new Robert Talbott and we wanted our imagery to communicate the aspirations of men today which is a more relaxed and confident approach to living and working,” Picchione said.
Key pieces in the spring collection include a stretch twill, garment-dyed five-pocket pant, a machine-washable merino sweater program, cotton pique polos with shell buttons, a nylon poly-filled puffer vest, a modern track suit, a cotton cashmere pique bomber and an unlined knit blazer with pick stitching and working buttonholes.
Thanks to the expertise of its parent company, prices are sharp and include shirts retailing for $195 to $450; knits from $95 to $275; bottoms from $295 to $395; sweaters from $295 to $350; outerwear and blazers from $695 to $895, and ties from $95 to $295.
“We’re the largest company in the industry you’ve never heard of,” Angelchik said with a laugh. “We employ 1,500 people and have 50 offices around the world.”
And it’s this reach that it is applying to Robert Talbott, which Angelchik called a “passion project” for the team, adding that his father had worn the brand and some of his first dress shirts were Robert Talbott. “I’m personally excited to see an evolution of the brand as it interprets what the good life is today, which is freer and easier in the way one lives and dresses,” he said. “We’re not starting from scratch, just modifying what was good. We see opportunity in the U.S. specialty store market for a premium American brand that delivers style that is relevant to how men live now, with outstanding quality at smart prices. We’ve put Newtimes’ development and financial resources behind the brand and assembled a team deeply experienced in the design, distribution, and marketing of luxury menswear.”
He said the team spent some seven months studying the brand before even starting production. That included defining what a contemporary American luxury brand would look like — and what it would not.
“We’re not competing against the performance brands,” Picchione said. “It’s not golfwear, it’s not loungewear. We’re using heritage fabrics, our factories are the best in the world and the line has a craftsmanship feeling.”
Although the first season will be sold direct-to-consumer, the goal is to eventually move into the specialty store channel again with high-end retailers such as Harry Rosen, the Mitchells stores, Boyds and Andrisen Morton. “But we know we have to earn our place again,” Angelchik said. “We know it’s going to be hard to get back in,” Picchione added, “but when you mention the Robert Talbott name, everyone still has positive thoughts about it.”
Spearheading that effort will be Jeff Morgan, president of Newtimes, who had spent 16 years at Ralph Lauren including CEO of Ralph Lauren Media.
“Specialty stores will be an important channel for the future,” he said. “We want to establish the business with partners.”
What’s not in the immediate plans, however, is reopening Robert Talbott retail stores. “We may do events or a pop-up or even a few stores, but it won’t be a significant part of the business,” Angelchik said. “We’re not retailers.”
The brand will test the wholesale waters at the PGA Show in Orlando, Florida, on Jan. 23 and 24 when it is shown at the Ashworth booth as a way to reach luxury resorts and golf pro shops. “That’s where our guy shops, but that’s not the focus for us,” Morgan said.
As it has proven already, Newtimes is in it for the long haul, executives stressed. “We’re not a private equity player and we’ve never sold an asset in 60 years,” Angelchik said. “We will keep the brand and hopefully make some money.”
He said the company has already mapped out a 10-year plan for Robert Talbott and will “invest where it counts — in consistently good product, at good prices, delivered on-time.”