Robert Talbott Seen Attracting Interest From Richemont, Others

Jean E. Palmieri
·4 min read

The coronavirus has claimed another victim.

The intellectual property of Robert Talbott, the upscale men’s furnishings brand founded by Robert and Audrey Talbott more than 70 years ago, has been put up for sale by Hilco Streambank. The financial services company is seeking bids for the trademark, the brand’s domain name and select inventory. The deadline for submitting offers is April 8 at midnight. ET and an auction will be held on April 13.

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“There are not many men’s wear brands with the cachet and exclusivity of Robert Talbott,” said Richelle Kalnit, senior vice president of Hilco Streambank. “The brand is uniquely positioned to appeal to discerning customers in multiple channels and categories seeking its casual yet sophisticated statement for today’s relaxed work and event needs.”

According to sources, there is a lot of buzz around the brand with private investors and large corporations such as Compagnie Financière Richemont expressing interest. Because the brand had sales of just over $9 million in 2018, it is deemed too small for many of the brand management firms such as Authentic Brands Group.

Richemont owns the Peter Millar brand, which could be impacted by a relaunch of Robert Talbott with a focus on elevated sportswear rather than furnishings. “There’s interest out there for sure,” said one source. “It has really deep bones, particularly in California. And there really aren’t any other players in updated classic apparel. Yes, there’s Ralph Lauren, but it’s Ralph Lauren. As we reemerge from COVID-19, people who have done nothing for a year will be looking to buy something new so it’s a good time for a brand like Robert Talbott.”

The source said the brand, which was on the block for as much as $7.5 million before the pandemic, could probably be picked up for around $1.5 million now, pocket change for a major corporation such as Richemont. But the Swiss giant — which owns Cartier, Chloé, Dunhill, Van Cleef & Arpels and a host of other labels – would most likely buy it “and put it on a shelf” to keep it from competing with Peter Millar, the source speculated. Richemont on Monday said it does not comment or rumor or speculation.

According to Kalnit, Robert Talbott, which has been owned by Relevant Brands Holdings since 2018, had been planning a relaunch and brought former Saks Fifth Avenue men’s wear chief Tom Ott on board as a strategic adviser to help with that process at the end of 2019. “Then COVID-19 hit,” she said, and the brand’s long-standing history of producing high-end neckwear and dress shirts was impacted by the fact that everyone was all working from home and not attending any special events.

“But we see a lot of opportunity for this brand,” she added. “A lot of people think highly of it and there’s definitely an opportunity to relaunch it through licensing, e-commerce, expanding to more wholesale channels and capitalizing on all the retail vacancies.”

Although its reputation remains essentially unscathed, the brand has had its share of challenges since Audrey Talbott’s death in 2004. The brand was founded after 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. It also offers a made-to-measure tailored clothing program. Robert Talbott died in 1986 and Audrey ran the business until her death when it was passed to Robb Talbott.

However, Robb Talbott is a winemaker rather than an apparel operator and came close to selling the brand a number of times. In 2007, former Ermenegildo Zegna executive Richard Cohen was brought in as chief executive officer, but his tenure ended in 2011 when the brand was put up for sale, attracting interest from PVH Corp. and others. But Robb Talbott found it painful to sell his parents’ business and opted to retain ownership. The next year, he hired Bob Corliss, a onetime head of the Athlete’s Foot, as CEO. Corliss opened a number of stores around the U.S. and expanded the company’s offerings, but the brand hit some major bumps, leading to a significant reduction of staff and ultimately the closure of the headquarters and manufacturing facility in Monterey, Calif.

According to Hilco, the brand had sales of $9.1 million in 2018, with men’s shirts accounting for 36 percent of sales, neckwear 27 percent, and tailored clothing 7 percent. Its business is split 51 percent wholesale and 49 percent retail and is carried at Nordstrom as well as a variety of independent specialty stores.

Kalnit said she believes potential acquirers would include opportunistic purchasers as well as “category agnostic” companies who believe there is an uptick in the offing when people go back to their offices and start attending events, whether that’s after Labor Day or around the holidays. “The timing works out nicely for when we all go back and rejoin the world,” she said.

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