Lands' End's high-fashion CEO is out. When it comes to fashion with haute couture flair, the mainstream just isn’t having it. And so, some 19 months after sweeping into Lands’ End headquarters in Dodgeville, Wis. — albeit for only one week a month or so — CEO Federica Marchionni is a free agent on Seventh Avenue.
“Following stints at luxury labels Dolce & Gabbana and Ferrari, Marchionni’s appointment in February 2015 raised eyebrows in the retail industry. Historically, Lands’ End — which previously had an exclusive relationship with Sears — has been more commonly associated with polos and khakis than luxury looks,” writes Krystina Gustafson for CNBC.
“The hire came under further scrutiny earlier this year, when the typically conservative Lands' End featured photos and an interview with feminist and abortion activist Gloria Steinem in its spring catalog. The company later issued an apology,” Gustafson continues.
Marchionni, 44, “sought to inject more style into the maker of outdoorsy, casual clothes by adding slimmer-fits, stiletto heels and a new line of activewear,” write Suzanne Kapner and Joann S. Lublin for the Wall Street Journal. “She overhauled the catalog, hired celebrity photographers and tapped a Vogue stylist for input. A photo shoot for the new activewear line took place recently in the Marshall Islands, a costly location in the Pacific Ocean, according to people familiar with the situation.”
But Marchionni “was never able to get Lands’ End’s employees to buy into her vision, according to people familiar with the situation,” Kapner and Lublin continue, citing her sparse attendance at headquarters as a contributing factor.
It was no surprise, though.
“In a securities filing shortly after her appointment, Lands' End said Marchionni's primary workplace would be in New York,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Rick Romell reported in April 2015, pointing out that the “globally focused executive” was also the “mother of a 7-year-old, Italian-speaking boy who goes to a special Italian school in New York City.
“So the agreement forged to bring the chic former executive at Dolce & Gabbana (think $3,600 charmeuse flounce dresses) to Lands' End (think $35 piqué cotton polo shirts) tilts heavily toward Marchionni staying in New York,” Romell continued with a tinge of skepticism.
Besides the lack of F2F time, however, there’s the plain, old bottom line.
“Perhaps what concerned the retailer’s board of directors was Marchionni's inability to assemble a strategy that rallied sales. Last fiscal year, the company's sales declined 8.7%,” Charisse Jones writes for USA Today. Putting that in perspective, the AP reports that the company lost money in its latest fiscal year but that annual sales have fallen for four consecutive years and net income for two.
Marchionni’s “creative vision has helped Lands' End begin its transformation as a global lifestyle brand with a broader merchandise offering that is more relevant in today's marketplace,” Josephine Linden, chairman of the Lands’ End board, said in a statement announcing that Marchionni had “stepped down.”
In the same release, Marchionni said “the board of directors and I have agreed it is time for others to bring Lands' End into the future.”
Two relatively new insiders, Joseph Boitano, EVP and chief merchandising and design officer and formerly with Saks Fifth Avenue, and James Gooch, EVP, COO and CFO and formerly with Radio Shack, will serve as interim co-CEOs as the company searches within and without for a permanent replacement.
Lands’ End is “A Victim Of Sears' Serial Retail Abuse” reads the headline over Forbes contributor Mark Cohen’s analysis. Then-CEO Alan Lacy overpaid in 2002 for a business that Sears “had no earthly idea what to do with. Their strategy to merely pile Lands’ End merchandise, assorted and regularly priced for catalog selling, into hundreds of Sears Roebuck’s promotionally driven brick and mortar stores was an abject failure.”
Then Sears merged with Eddie Lampert’s Kmart. “Investment in human and cash capital … were not part of Lampert’s operating plan,” writes Cohen, a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business who was chairman/CEO of Sears Canada.
Finally, in 2013, it was spun off from Sears Holding in an IPO. “And so the abuse went on. This time at the hands of a European luxury brand executive who incomprehensibly attempted to do what Ron Johnson tried to do at JC Penney, notably, wandering away from the brand’s legacy customer….”
Don’t blame Sears, which continues to be its largest bricks-and-mortar distributor, writes Lisa Fickenscher for the New York Post. “Sears figures into this less than people think,” says CL King & Associates’ Steve Marotta.
Why not blame Amazon instead, as everyone else does?