Kenneth Cole is known for its sophisticated designs—particularly when it comes to watches and footwear, so much so that any mention of men’s fashion in the luxury space is incomplete without the brand. As the brand completes 40 years, Zee Zest caught up with Rajiv Mehra—Brand Director, Kenneth Cole New York and Head of Production, International Luxury Group—to delve deeper into the journey of the brand globally and in India.
1. Take us through the journey of the Kenneth Cole brand.
RM: Kenneth Cole hails from New York. Every brand in the lifestyle segment has a core product category; Kenneth Cole has the core product category of shoes. This year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Kenneth Cole and the tagline of the brand is ‘Life on Purpose’. From the time Kenneth Cole started the business 40 years ago till today, everything that we do has a purpose. As far as the brand is concerned, over the last four decades, it has evolved into a mid-market lifestyle brand. Catering to urban travellers and professionals who want to make themselves comfortable in a way that they don't have to tire themselves with multiple clothes while travelling. So you have a lot of, how should I say, iconic features when it comes to all the product categories across Kenneth Cole. You have lightweight shoes, repellent shoes, anti-wrinkle apparels and some of these features have also been incorporated into the Kenneth Cole watches to follow the DNA of the brand.
When it comes to Kenneth Cole watches, we at International Luxury Group (ILG) took the license five years ago, but the watches have been in the market for the last 25 years as a brand. So, we as licensee took the brand five years ago and created a direction for the brand to appeal to a young urban professional who likes to wear a nice watch that is fashionable but not a fashion watch.
2. Tell us about the International Luxury Group and how it operates.
RM: ILG has been in business for over two decades; we are the licensee and worldwide distributors of multiple brands. Starting from premium segments to mid-market segments, within which we have multiple brands—a lot of them represented in India as well. From a distribution and licensing perspective, we don’t only cater to watches. We have watches and apart from that, we also have accessories. When it comes to accessories, we have fashion jewellery. And then we also have eyewear. And now we are also exploring smart wearables, which is a new trend. We have multiple offices across the globe. We have an office in Hong Kong which takes care of the sales in Asia. It also serves as a production office. We also have an office in the Middle East.
3. When you say production office, do you mean manufacturing as well?
RM: Yes, we take care of the entire manufacturing production in China, for all our brands. And we have a regional office in the Middle East in Dubai, which takes care of the distribution, sales, and marketing for global and Middle East markets. We have offices in Switzerland that takes care of the sales in Europe. We have our own subsidiaries in Italy and Germany, and an office in New York, which basically takes care of the sales in Central, Northern and Southern Americas.
4. In terms of the product portfolio of watches, you have a very healthy collection of quartz and automatics. It feels like a watchmaker’s statement on fashion and not a fashion label making watches.
RM: When we took over the licence, we wanted to find our feet somewhere in this huge ocean of fashion brands. No doubt Kenneth Cole had a portfolio of automatic watches, but it was not so well defined. We took a stand by deliberating on how we could identify ourselves and stand separate from other mid-market fashion brands. The only way we could distinguish ourselves was by avoiding creating a me-too product and offering a certain portfolio of products that are not available with other fashion brands. In this endeavour, we have been quite successful. So that is how we went on the journey of creating an exhaustive collection of mechanical hand-wound and automatic watches, both for gents and ladies—though the percentage of products for gents is much more. We have captivated the discerning audience by offering a watch brand with a fashion sense, and by not being a fashion brand trying to offer watches.
5. In India, you have a solid partner in Titan. Tell me a bit about that relationship and the trends are you seeing in India.
RM: It's a great opportunity to work with Titan, especially since the team understands what we want to do. They are in sync with us in terms of the thought process on how we want to take the brand further and create an audience for the kind of product that we are offering as Kenneth Cole. Until two years ago, we were struggling with the how, what and what not. But then of course we sat down and made a decision about the route we should take in India. Looking at the complete market scenario, India has a big pool of fashion brands available at multiple price points; a lot of these brands have a great market share as well. We sat down and thought about how we can create a distinctive identity; that's how we took the direction of mechanical and automatics in India as well. Today, we are the market leaders when it comes to this product offering.
The journey started last year and then in January, this year, we had an ‘automatic festival’ in the large-format stores, World of Titan and Helios. And we had great success. We saw a stupendous 220% growth in business. Kudos to Titan and the team for pulling this off.
6. Tell me about the one characteristic feature of New York in a Kenneth Cole watch and a characteristic feature that is very universal.
RM: I think when it comes to uniquely characteristic features, the watches are made keeping in mind the quintessential New Yorker lifestyle. They like to wear watches that are simple—neither overstated nor understated. I think that is the most important feature that we have tried to sort of play around with. Likewise, when it comes to characteristic features that are in line with the other globally-available brands, we have a small portfolio of modern classical and modern dress sport watches. But here again we try to make these classical watches with a slight twist for people to be able to identify them as a league apart.