Robert Talbott up for sale?

by Harry Sheff

CARMEL VALLEY, Calif.—Luxury furnishings brand Robert Talbott is up for sale and Hampshire Group and HMX are among the bidders, according to market sources. Hampshire Group, a mid-market knitwear and sportswear manufacturer, is apparently the front runner. Sources say that talks between Robert Talbott owner Robb Talbott and PVH broke down before they could get off the ground.

Neither Robb Talbott nor CEO Richard Cohen would comment, but company spokesman Tom Mastronardi acknowledged the rumors and didn’t lend them any credence. “Some of the rumors have been crazier than others, but we’re just riding them out,” he said.

If Hampshire Group acquired Robert Talbott, it would be their first luxury brand. Menswear industry observers have privately called the potential deal a mismatch, with HMX as a more seamless fit. However, it could also be a chance for the company to begin building a better business.

The Robert Talbott brand was founded as a neckwear business in 1950 by Robert and Audrey Talbott. The company expanded into dress shirts in 1982. When Robert died in 1986, his wife Audrey became CEO. Bill Potter, who was company president since 1998, succeeded her as chief executive when she passed away in 2004.

The company is currently owned by Robert and Audrey’s son Robb, who also runs the family vineyard he started in 1982. Robb Talbott fired former CEO Bill Potter in 2006 and brought in former Zegna USA CEO Richard Cohen as an advisor. Cohen was hired as CEO a year later.

At its peak, Robert Talbott was doing as much as $55 million in sales. Industry estimates say that figure has dropped significantly, perhaps by more than half.