Glenn McMahon, who was named chief executive officer in September, wants to evolve, rather than revolutionize, the $400 million brand while maintaining its strong DNA.
McMahon said in at interview at company headquarters here that his agenda includes focusing on product, revamping domestic retail stores, growing the international business and expanding into nonapparel categories.
"We are not going to be making any crazy declarations,'' McMahon said as he prepared for St. John's runway show tonight at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. "It's really an evolution. We have gotten some good results from some of the resort product that is retailing now. The truer colors and more graphic knits continue to perform quite well and the evening category overall continues to be very strong."
McMahon, 49, former president of Dolce & Gabbana USA, said, "St. John continues to have so much potential, and in 2007 it really showed the resilience it has coming off a really difficult 2006."
Acknowledging that "everybody is very nervous about 2008,'' McMahon said, "we have the fundamentals back in place. If we had not been able to regain the market share that we lost in 2006 we would be worried right now. But we are in good shape even though it is going to be a trying year. We are conservatively working on retooling the brand and by going at an intelligent pace we are setting ourselves up for continued success. Our retail store comps have been up nice double digits and our retail partners have improved over the last year pretty significantly.
"We have returned to the core of St. John, work started by interim chief executive officers Bruce Fetter and Phillip Miller,'' he said. "It was an important return to normalcy, and so for the past six months we've been focusing on how we continue to grow."
That normalcy includes co-founder Marie Gray and her daughter, former creative director Kelly Gray, who are back, along with several executives.
McMahon said the big lesson from 2006, when the company struggled to recover losses suffered during Richard Cohen's 18-month tenure as ceo, is that St. John moved to quickly and too far away from its core business.