You can generally find Arnold Brant Silverstone on lists of Top 100 and Powerful People in anything related to the men’s apparel business. You may have seen him on the Today Show, Extra, ABC or E! where he hosted a red carpet segment for the Academy Awards. He’s has styled wardrobes for CBS Sports, Brad Pitt, Matthew McConaughey, Forest Whitaker and both Al Gore and President George W. Bush. With the backing of Grano Investments he revitalized Montreal-based better men’s -tailored clothier Samuelsohn as a modern luxury lifestyle brand. Last October’s acquisition of iconic Hickey Freeman has now set the stage for what is expected to be one of fashion’s most watched re-launches. Recently Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan caught up with Silverstone between market week appointments as he was giving a first look at what he is doing to industry buyers.
Elite Traveler: What was it like to when you visited Hickey Freeman after the acquisition?
Arnold Brant Silverstone: When we went to Hickey in Rochester to announce the acquisition we brought everyone together in the lunchroom. There were 400 people. Because of the ups and downs you could see on their faces the passion, the hope. You go to Rochester and see what’s happened to the American manufacturing industry. It was a manufacturing hub and there is the infrastructure with highways and hospitals. Xerox and Kodak were based there. I walked in and saw these American workers, some of whom have been there multiple generations, and our message was, ‘We are going to add jobs. We are going to add new products.’ I still get goose bumps. I am passionate and want to grow a nice business but I am also doing it for the people in Rochester.
ET: You come from the industry?
ABS: I grew up in this business. I am third generation. I worked by my dad’s side as a young kid. I remember going to the factory. Some of the salespeople used to joke I was born in Super 130 diapers because they didn’t have Super 200s back then.
ET: What attracted you to Hickey Freeman at this point?
ABS: I’ve coveted Hickey Freeman for a long time. I was raised in this business, and I always had respect for Hickey Freeman. In my dad’s business, when I joined after university, one of the first things we did was expand and add new brands. We went out and got some labels and one of the labels we got was Karl Lagerfeld. Interestingly with Lagerfeld we shared the license with Hickey Freeman. We had Canada. Hickey had the U.S. and we worked together on the project. Growing up, Hickey Freeman was the icon and the jewel of the American clothing industry. We wanted to buy it earlier but it was never for sale alone. Previous owners wouldn’t split it up and (despite its bankruptcy) it’s still a pretty large business.
ET: How do you see Hickey Freeman positioned?
ABS: To me it was the best American luxury brand. Ralph Lauren I think of sportswear. For tailored clothing it was Hickey Freeman. We think we can be true luxury with an American twist competing head to head against the Italians. There is such a passion for the brand. Even people who don’t wear it still know the name. Once we dust it off we think there is so much opportunity for this American brand.
Last year at retail was approximately $100 million with all the challenges. Imagine if it’s executed well, delivered well, serviced well, and we build a great made to measure business and expand the product lines. We have opportunity even beyond America. Hickey has a nice business in Japan.
ET: How does Hickey align with Samuelsohn?
ABS: We think it complements Samuelsohn. Samuelsohn is opening luxury with a European twist. Hickey will be true luxury. We are elevating the product using the finest fabrics in the world, the finest canvases, Bemberg linings, and corozo nut buttons. We think we can do what we did at Samuelsohn where we doubled the business in three years.
ET: Some might say Hickey is more their father’s brand. How will you be changing the image of Hickey?
ABS: We looked at all the top branding and creative agencies. We settled on Mike Toth because he is passionate about American brands. He has a long, successful track record of working with great American brands from J. Crew to Coach. He actually coined and trademarked the term ‘Brand DNA.’ His team went to the archives in Brooklyn where there are 115 years of Hickey Freeman history from ledgers to labels to ads. They were like kids playing in a pirate’s treasure chest. They spoke to all the stakeholders. They spoke to users and non-users. The good news was Hickey Freeman has great awareness, and it is held close to the heart by the consumer. Where we are taking the brand is to ‘fashionable luxury relevant to me today.’ In our new ads you will see the guy moving, active, nothing stiff. It’s a sophisticated urban man.
We are also introducing a new brand color. We call it Tailor’s Gold. When (the Toth team) visited the factory (a 230,000 square-foot facility referred to as The Temple) it’s like a beehive with all the tailors working towards the greater good. It’s very regal color, and it connotes that today’s Hickey Freeman is ready for the world stage. We’re made in New York, which is the epicenter of fashion in our country.
ET: When will we seek the new look?
ABS: We are unveiling it to the industry now with one on one appointments. We’ve shown it to Barney’s, Saks, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman. For consumers it will be January 2015.
ET: Are you making any other changes in how you tell the story?
ABS: The entire line has been designed by theme, each with its own distinct story, inspiration, and fabrications. For spring we have six stories, which are presented in a custom box that contains swatches of fabric, images and a story that explains what is behind that particular collection. It’s rather revolutionary in the tailored clothing world.