As previously reported by MR, Differential Brands Group Inc. (which also owns Hudson Jeans) has announced that Andrew Berg has joined Robert Graham as its president. We recently spoke with Berg, who has worked with some of menswear’s largest companies, about his new job, his past mentors, and his personal interests.
MR: I realize you haven’t officially started yet, but what do you see as your mission as president of Robert Graham?
AB: Of course I need time to evaluate but I’ve always admired the company from afar. The fact that Robert Graham is a leader and innovator in such an important category in menswear (woven shirts) is impressive in itself. I’ve always been impressed with the product and the overall lifestyle concept: the quality, the colors, and the point of view.
So I see my job as developing opportunities to grow the customer base beyond the very passionate core customers, to evolve and modernize the product, to become experts in categories beyond the woven shirt. This means getting all the touchpoints aligned: defining the face of the brand, how customers experience the brand, cultivating younger customers with cleaner and more relevant product that infuses the Robert Graham DNA in new ways. (And by younger, I don’t mean just millennials; we’re targeting the 30-45 year olds as well. )
MR: What do you project will be the biggest challenges?
AB: Obviously, one challenge is the macro-environment at retail these days, which is especially problematic for department stores. Fortunately, Robert Graham’s distribution is well balanced between wholesale and direct (e-commerce plus 19 full-price stores and 11 outlet stores). The wholesale component is fairly well balanced between better department and specialty stores so we’re not overly dependent on any single market segment.
Another challenge we face is that the brand has become stereotyped. People see it as “the wild and crazy shirt company” when there’s so much more to the brand, including a new luxury R by Robert Graham collection, a younger modern Americana component (with a different label, updated styling and fit, and which retails in the $150 vs $250 range), fragrance (which at Bloomingdale’s was their best-selling men’s fragrance launch ever) and much more.
MR: You’ve worked with some of our industry’s key icons; what have you learned from them?
AB: From Mickey Drexler, I learned always be prepared with your numbers and to have a point of view. He is the quintessential merchant who taught me trust my gut instinct but always with numbers to back it up.
Working with Michael Jeffries at Abercrombie & Fitch was like merchant boot camp: in addition to driving the business I worked directly with the overseas factories on costing, washing and stitching techniques, and all details related to manufacturing the perfect garment. He was all about offering fewer SKUs but each one perfectly vintage.
From Ralph Lauren, I learned about storytelling and how to create a brand image. He was all about flawless details: from the showroom carpet to how the mannequins are pinned to the perfect dimple in a tie knot—all of this matters tremendously.
Andrew Rosen from Theory is a brilliant businessman and an amazing leader. He understands how to take the wisdom of the past and modernize it, how to constantly evolve while staying true to one’s brand identity. He taught me that less is more, that each SKU needs a purpose and must stand on its own. I also learned much from Tadashi Yanai of Fast Retailing whose motto is “change or die.” He and Andrew are similar in their constant challenging of conventional wisdom.
MR: Did you always plan to go into the fashion business?
AB: No, I’m a first generation garmento from a family of doctors. But when I graduated from the University of Virginia, GAP was recruiting for their retail management program and I was offered the opportunity to work with Mickey Drexler and other senior level management for a year. It was a good decision.
MR: You have an amazing resume; what are your other interests?
AB: My favorite sports are golf and tennis. My wife is in real estate and we love to travel. And I’m an aspiring musician; I play keyboard, guitar and drums. I’m also a new father so right now, and my five-month old daughter Charlotte keeps me plenty busy. So there’s little time for anything beyond work and baby.