“New opportunities are being presented to me every day. In reality, we are focusing on the strength of our house and still are looking for the right ceo candidate. I would like to make sure that before Joel’s contract is up, I have that person in place, with a certain amount of time working with Joel under his belt —even though Joel said he’d stay on as long as we want him to,” explained Hilfiger. He noted he probably wouldn’t make an acquisition without the new ceo in place.
Meanwhile, the designer still sees growth potential for the Hilfiger brand, especially in the women’s area.
“Believe it or not, there are a lot of growth opportunities of which we’ve never taken advantage. Growing the women’s is an enormous opportunity. We’ve really succeeded with women’s, but not to the extent we can if we really put horsepower behind it. We view ourselves as a global brand. There’s growth in Europe. It’s very substantial, and more than any other division,” he said. Europe contributed a total of $275.8 million to 2003 revenues, above expectations and 44.2 percent above the previous year, excluding currency fluctuations.
One area he’d like to cultivate is casual career, and he’d like to make a play for the Lauren by Ralph Lauren area in department stores — real estate that Jones New York, CK Calvin Klein and, of course, Polo’s Lauren line are all going after as well.
“We’re only in casual. We’ve never been in the dressier career business,” said Hilfiger. “Casual career is the thought at the moment with department stores — as a result of the Lauren/Jones situation.” Presently, one-third of Hilfiger’s total business is in women’s apparel (with men’s, children’s, retail and licensing comprising the rest) and 65 percent of the women’s business is in jeans and jeans-related casualwear, Hilfiger pointed out.
“The question marks surrounding Lauren and Jones will spell opportunity with a Big O,” said Hilfiger. “Department stores will clear out space. Now, it’s a new ballgame, and everyone will scramble,” he said.