Josh Schulman has spent the past four years making a major mark at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus International, where he serves as president. In the past week alone, he’s overseen the much-buzzed-about launch of Rihanna’s Fenty X Puma collection and the unveiling of Bergdorf’s stylish new main floor. Not surprisingly, Schulman has also made a big statement with the retailer’s shoe business, expanding the main floor and overhauling the contemporary offering.
Before he landed on the department store scene, Schulman led Jimmy Choo for five years and was at the center of many growth big initiatives. Here, he reflects on groundbreaking moments during his tenure at the brand.
Overall reflections: “Only 20 years old, Jimmy Choo has already been the subject of many books and articles. Everyone has tried to take credit for the brand’s success. The truth is that the brand is bigger than any one person. From Jimmy Choo himself to Tamara, Robert (Bensoussan), Sandra (Choi), Pierre (Denis) and me — in addition to the terrific global teams we’ve led in the stores, factories and offices around the world — all of us have played important roles in this international success story.”
Leading ladies: “The most important character in the story has always been the customer. From first lady Michelle Obama to actress Natalie Portman to British swim champion Rebecca Adlington to the hundreds of women who shared their Choo Stories with us in our earliest social media campaigns, they are the true stars.”
Early challenges: “When I arrived at the company, it had been growing fast but [had been] in a bit of turmoil from three buyouts in six years and a famously divided leadership. Bringing the company together was one of my first challenges as CEO. I asked Tamara [Mellon] to join me with the senior team in an off-site for a few days, and together we came up with the strategy that would propel the brand.”
The product story: “There was a shift in shoe trends during that time, as platforms were the rage and pointy-toe stilettos were waning. We had very few platforms in the line, but wherever we had them, they were flying out. We blew up a shoe called Clue in all heel heights, colors and materials, and quickly that became the best-seller worldwide. This experiment showed me that unlike some of our core competitors, which were defined by a particular model, [a platform or a stiletto], we were lucky since we were defined by a certain sexy style. The customer was giving us permission to expand our shoe range significantly. Tamara and I worked on rebalancing the collection from our first season. We won the Footwear News Brand of the Year award that year, together with an ACE Award and the British Fashion Council Designer of the Year award, all within a few months.”
Tipping points: “When the recession hit 16 months after I joined, like other luxury businesses, our comps plummeted. But it also encouraged me to move forward on three projects I had been considering: Internally, we called them Project Wardrobe, Project PEP and Project Sweden.
“Project Wardrobe evolved into the launch of Choo 24:7. During my first year, I couldn’t understand why we hid the best-sellers in a closet and never advertised them. We always had fabulous over-the-top shoes in our campaigns that represented the tip top of the pyramid, but I saw an opportunity to also advertise and show love to the core. It wasn’t going to be one or the other. We would continue advertising the Innovation but now also the Icons.
“I gave my head of communications 5,000 pounds and asked her to do an ad shoot for the Choo 24:7 styles on the sidelines of the seasonal campaign photo shoot. With so little budget , she couldn’t afford to shoot the models’ heads. So in some ways, the close-up campaign was the precursor to Instagram accessory street style shoots which are ubiquitous today. We then went to the suppliers and re-engineered our supply chain for quick replenishment. And when we set up the showroom, rather than showing one style in each color, we showed product authority by showing every 24:7 style in every color.
“Glenda Bailey and Ron Frasch were the first to see collection and were blown away. I then went to the board and told them I planned to double inventory and marketing. Comps were still running down around 20 percent in most regions, so the board could have looked at me as if I had three heads. But they were fully supportive and backed us in our plan. Choo 24:7 became the engine that led us out of the recession, while we continued to drive a strong sexy fashion message at the top of the pyramid.
“Project PEP came from Tamara’s work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation. We created a capsule of bags and shoes with an iconic collage of Jimmy Choo images and donated the proceeds to the EJAF. Project Sweden was our collaboration with H&M. We initially discussed doing a shoe collection, but this morphed into a full lifestyle collection. I remember going around London on the day of the launch, overwhelmed by seeing the brand reaching a much broader audience — many of whom waited overnight in the rain to get their first Jimmy Choo item. The brand was truly bigger than the business.”