Tom Ott

Tom Ott has already found a new gig — relaunching the venerable Robert Talbott label.

Ott left Saks Fifth Avenue at the end of August after 24 years, serving most recently as chief merchant of the Off 5th division. He had also been the head of men’s wear for Saks for many years and was instrumental in the creation of the Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Collection private label.

It’s that skill he’ll draw upon for Robert Talbott as a special adviser for strategic opportunities, he said.

In an exclusive interview, Ott said the Robert Talbott brand was quietly purchased by Relevant Brands Holdings last year and went dormant after shipping the spring collection. “They’re taking a breather,” he said. It will be relaunched for holiday 2020 although a capsule targeted to resort communities may be offered for next fall.

“There’s a big white space in my book,” Ott said. “It’s a really good collection and not tarnished. It’s a diamond in the rough.” 

Ott said Robert Talbott can “go head to head” with a brand like Peter Millar, but with more color and a “relaxed California lifestyle” aesthetic. The plan is to mine the brand’s archives for inspiration and translate that to luxe knitwear and sportswear.

Robert and Audrey Talbott and their son, Robb, left the East Coast in 1950 and moved to Carmel, Calif., where they started a business based on Audrey Talbott’s skill making handcrafted silk neckwear. The company expanded into men’s furnishings, knitwear, sportswear, leathers and women’s wear. Robert Talbott died in 1986 and Audrey ran the business until her death in 2004, when it was passed to Robb Talbott. 

Since that time, the brand has struggled to maintain its footing. Robb Talbott, whose love was winemaking rather than apparel manufacturing, had come close to selling the brand a number of times. In 2012, he brought Bob Corliss on board as chief executive officer and Corliss opened a number of stores around the U.S. and expanded its offerings.

Things started to unravel under Corliss and the staff in Carmel was trimmed to a handful; ultimately, the facility was closed.

Ott said the brand will now be produced in New York.

He said he will bring on some familiar faces from his time at Saks to help design the label. “It’s going to be hip, cool and relaxed,” he said. Although shirts and ties will continue to be produced, the greatest opportunity is in sportswear. There will also be golf and tennis offerings. Prices will include wovens for $95 to $125 and knitwear for $75 to $85.

The collection will be marketed to the maturing Millennial generation searching for a classic wardrobe appropriate for both the office and the club, Ott said.

The target distribution will be specialty stores, which was the primary market for the brand in the past.

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