Peter Rizzo: Brand Builder

by MR Magazine Staff


SVP design, menʼs private brands, Peter Rizzo on how heʼs turning Black Brown 1826 into a household name.

His fervor for design and fashion is immediately apparent. Before we even sit down for our interview, Peter Rizzo is running around the studio, gathering samples to show us his imprint on the Black Brown 1826 collection for fourth quarter. Brought in this past January to build the store brand business for Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor, Rizzo’s luxury background and luxury taste level are being put to good use. Explaining the elaborate storyboards, he shows us an early sample of an ultra-expensive looking soft-shoulder, Italian-made, super 100s sportcoat with a surpisingly affordable suggested retail of $695. Here, we speak to him about building and expanding the Black Brown label.


We can see you’re already adding your design aesthetic to Black Brown. Tell us how you got to this point in your career.
I spent 25 years at both Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman as president and head merchant. After that I went to wholesale for a denim company that was unofficially in bankruptcy; I got the stock up from 39 cents to $7.42 in about 18 months. I was there for about four or five years. After doing a few different things, I wrote Steve Sadove and Ron Frasch a note that said, “For all of the traveling you’re doing, I think you’re missing one of the most important brands.” Within 30 minutes—and it’s impossible to get those guys to respond within 30 minutes—they said,  “Can we come to you or can you come to us to talk about it?” And that’s when I came up with a business plan for Saks private brand. I started the full line and we took it to a solid $30 million. And then Steve asked if I could help Rob Walsh at Off 5th and we took a $12 million men’s business to between $85 and $90 million when I left in December. When the companies merged, they wanted to greatly expand Off 5th with brands, not private brand. It was a very smart strategy implemented by Jerry Storch and Richard [Baker], so that’s when I was asked to work on private brands for Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay. I’ve spent a lot of years building brands, but Black Brown was packaged quite nicely from the beginning. I don’t have much time to play golf anymore, but if I did, that’s the crest I’d be wearing on the golf course.

From a design standpoint, how would you describe Black Brown 1826: where it is and where you’d like to take it?
Three brilliant men handed the baton to me: Richard Baker, Joseph Abboud and David Lipman. It’s an honor to pick up from there. Lord & Taylor has always had an upscale image: with Black Brown, I want to create a certain sophistication and taste level but at value prices. It’s a very interesting time for the brand. It essentially started as a weekend casual line but it’s quickly moving into some dress and dress separates. Interestingly enough, we’ve always had a good furnishings business, even without the jackets and suits.

It’s this new concept of weekend separates: if we can create this aesthetic at prices that are really easy, then I think we’ve got something. We design with price in mind. We go through it by classification, always looking for the buy-in price. We build around the first price and fill in a nine-box grid.

Could you define the target customer?
We’re targeting two types: the International Classicist and the Global Modernist. Unlike other store brands, we’re not American traditional. If you look at Joe Abboud, his style is suave and sophisticated, what we’re calling International Classicist. Joe was never typical Ivy League and the brand starts with his DNA. But where we’re moving is toward the Global Modernist: more cropped jackets, softer shoulders. The cool Millennial customer is wearing this type of modern look. In the past, Black Brown was devoid of any sort of global modernism. Going forward, we’ll appeal to both customer types but in a very refined way.

Is made to measure in Black Brown’s future?
I’d love to do it. I had my dreams about what the Black Brown clothing business could be and when I think about the competition, you see mostly Indian and Chinese-made clothing selling for $500. We’ll be selling made in Italy for only 20 percent more. And I don’t know of another full-price men’s store that can do this. We’re going to factories and building our own patterns.

Do you have plans for other private labels?
There are other worlds that we’re talking about, the key is to cover the spectrum, and you can’t do that with one brand. I think we have Black Brown pretty much where we need it to be. If we go more advanced or more classic, we’ll likely create different labels.

You mentioned your love for golf. What are your other interests?
I am a collector of rare and out-of-print books: WWII, Civil War, poetry and photography. My three-and-a-half-year-old son has been a blessing beyond description so whatever spare time I have is given to him and my wife Katherine.

Do you have a mentor?
Although I’ve been fortunate to have worked with the world’s best talent, I wouldn’t be here today without my years with Fred Pressman at Barneys. He, by far, is the best men’s merchant I’ve ever come across and was brilliant regardless of subject matter.

Wayne Drummond on the Business of Black Brown

Black Brown was about 20 percent to total menswear three years ago, and I would say that our blend is consistent. Our overall men’s business has grown substantially at both Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor, but so has private brand.

When we first introduced Black Brown to Hudson’s Bay, it penetrated very quickly. Today, it’s actually more penetrated at Hudson’s Bay (25 percent to total) than at Lord & Taylor (20 percent), especially in dress shirts and clothing.

The beauty of private brand is that it’s our story, our differentiator, which we’re passionate about driving and developing. Peter’s been amazing in his short window here, focusing on our vision. The Millennial generation is going to surpass the Boomer generation this year and we see a need for providing solutions for them, so there will be a private brand for it. We just launched Hudson North and that was a huge opportunity to drive extraordinary value in the moderate category with key fashion basics, which we expect to do huge business with. Within Black Brown, we have some very lofty goals for footwear, dress basics and accessories, which we really haven’t tapped into until now.

Will you wholesale the Black Brown Collection?
We don’t have plans for wholesale because we want to tell our story. Our door is always open, but the biggest opportunity right now is to conceive and build it as our brand.

Will it be available in outlets?
Saks Off 5th buys some of our end-season clearance now, but they’re working on their own off-price strategy. Certainly, within our family of brands, we’ll work closely with them to leverage opportunities for Black Brown within their strategy, and Peter’s been great for this. We have a close collaboration with Saks in terms of design and sourcing. It makes a big difference.