Market Watchers Mull Kenneth Cole Design Pick

LOS ANGELES — Analysts were mixed about Kenneth Cole Productions’ appointment last week of Hugo Boss exec Ingo Wilts as its first creative director.

Many said his success will depend on the company’s pricing strategy and ability to clarify its brand message — and some were simply puzzled by the choice.

“They seem to have moved away from the fashion show, high-end designer business … so to hire someone from that world seems strange,” said Scott Krasik, an analyst at C.L. King & Associates. “If you were trying to be a high-end luxury brand, it makes sense … but to bring someone in at that level, it begs the question of whether it’s needed or not.”

But B. Riley & Co. analyst Jeff Van Sinderen said Wilts’ brand experience could be a plus for the company as long as he is able to work in a more value-conscious market.

“They already tried elevating the Kenneth Cole brand and it didn’t work so I don’t think we’ll see that [again],” he said. “The fact that [Wilts] has experience at a strong brand like Hugo Boss helps … but we’ll have to wait and see and give him some time to do some work. They’ve got to execute better on product, and the strategy does have to make sense in terms of price point and a cohesive point of view.”

Wilts, who previously served as SVP and creative director of Hugo Boss, will officially assume his new position on Aug. 1 and will oversee design, design services and visual merchandising for the Kenneth Cole New York and Kenneth Cole Reaction brands. He will report to Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Kenneth Cole.

For her part, CEO Jill Granoff said Wilts would help Kenneth Cole further its goal to become a global lifestyle brand.

“We recognized the need for a strong, experienced design leader who can focus 100 percent on product,” she said, noting that Cole would continue to direct the creative vision of the company, as well as work on larger strategic projects. “What we liked about Ingo is that he shares a design aesthetic with Kenneth. His experience is dual gender and he also has experience in apparel, footwear and accessories.”

As for product pricing, Granoff said the company would continue to keep prices around $100 to $200.

“In general, our price points will remain the same,” she said. “We believe we’re well-priced designer fashion. This is a time of opportunity for us. Value is in. This bodes well for the Kenneth Cole brand. Right now, it’s not our thought to trade up. That said, Kenneth has said he’s considering returning to New York Fashion Week, so some of those items might be priced differently.”

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