Joseph Abboud to Battle with JA Apparel Again?

by MR Magazine Staff

NEW YORK – Seven years after selling his trademarks and two years after he left JA Apparel as chief creative director, Joseph Abboud is back. The venerable designer is planning a Fall 2008 collection under the name Jaz, which may be positioned to compete directly with the line that bears his name.

According to market sources, Abboud’s new label, Jaz, will be produced with the help of two acquisitions and three licensing deals. One of the companies Abboud is acquiring is Merrill Sharpe, an Elmsford, NY-based business that started in 1944. Merrill Sharpe will make sportswear for Jaz, and its name will change to Herringbone Sportswear, to match Abboud’s holding company. Andrew Schwartz, the president of Merrill Sharpe, will continue as such and report to Abboud.

Reached for comment this morning, Schwartz didn’t want to get into the details of the deal, but he said that he looked forward to working with Abboud. “I think he understands wearable luxury,” Schwartz said. “He’s just a pleasure to work with.”

Abboud is also acquiring Fall River Mass.-based Alden Street Shirts, a 71-year-old shirtmaker owned by Albert Metivier and George Nova. The name of the company will be changed to Herringbone Shirt Mfg. and Robert Kidder will be its president.

Jaz’s tailored clothing will be produced under license by Jack Victor, its outerwear by Cardinal of Canada, and its neckwear by J.S. Blank and Co.

Barbara Blank of J.S. Blank and Co. told MR Magazine, “I’m thrilled to be a part of Joseph Abboud’s Jaz team. He’s got a very unique point of view that’s defined by quality. For us it was the perfect match.” J.S. Blank, perhaps the last neckwear company with a factory in Manhattan, will be making ties, pocket squares, and scarves for the new Jaz label.

Abboud, who sold his business for $65 million to the predecessor of the current JA Apparel company, left there after disagreements with the new owners about his role. He returned to the company as creative director after it was acquired by J.W. Childs in 2004, at the urging of Marty Staff who had come on to lead the company. Similar disagreements arose with that arrangement, and Abboud left once more. His two year non-compete agreement ended recently and while he is free to compete, he may not use his name, except for personal appearances. Depending upon how he does that, the legal issues could get a little sticky, with JA Apparel determined to protect their stake in the Abboud trademark.

JA Apparel had the following statement regarding its namesake’s re-entry into the menswear business: “Mr. Abboud’s return has no practical impact on our business. The Joseph Abboud lifestyle brand has grown by double-digit margins in each of the last four years and is bigger than any one individual. The brand embodies sophisticated American style and our excellent growth since Mr. Abboud’s departure is strong evidence that we are connecting with our extremely loyal customers.

“While we wish him well in his new endeavor, we will require Mr. Abboud to comply with all the terms and conditions of the agreements he signed and for which he received fair consideration. JA Apparel Corp. owns the rights to the valuable Joseph Abboud brand name and, as always, we will be vigilant in protecting the trademark in order to prevent any confusion in the marketplace.”