St. John Knits Makes Top Executive Changes as CEO Retires

After 15 years at the luxury label known for its women’s knit suits, Bruce Fetter has retired as St. John Knits’ chief executive officer, president and chief operating officer. He has been replaced by Eran Cohen, who joined the company May 1.

Fosun Fashion Group, the Hong Kong company that owns a controlling interest in the brand, headquartered in Irvine, Calif., said it recently made some bold executive changes to the apparel concern. It named Laura Vazquez as the company’s executive vice president and chief merchant effective last November. It also appointed Tom Jarrold as the brand’s senior vice president of marketing, branding and communications, effective in March.

Cohen most recently was the executive vice president of customer experience at PetSmart Inc. and also had worked as chief marketing officer at Diane von Furstenburg and at New York & Co. as an executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He is known for driving growth at global companies.

“Eran has invaluable experience in marketing and consumer experience, with exceptional management skills. We believe he can unlock the potential of St. John, driving acceleration and growth via a strategic focus on the demands of current and new clients,” said Joann Cheng, president of Fosun Fashion Group, which has controlling interests in other brands, including Lanvin, Wolford, Caruso Suiting and Tom Tailor.

Cohen said he envisions a bold evolution, building off the brand’s heritage in knitwear, bringing innovation in design and product and providing dynamic experiences at retail, wholesale and online.

Over the years, St. John Knits has been looking for the right formula to keep the company growing. Ever since it was founded in 1962 by Marie and Robert Gray, the fashion house has been known for its well-made knit suits, which cost thousands of dollars and are worn by powerful women who need to look sharp, whether it be in a courtroom or at a social event.

The company is the largest flat-knitting factory in the United States with some 300 knitting machines. Its production facilities are housed in several buildings next to the St. John Knits headquarters in an industrial park.

In 1989, with Bob Gray suffering health problems, he and his wife sold the apparel company to Escada for $45 million. The German apparel company took St. John Knits public four years later, but it later reverted to a private company with Vestar Capital Partners buying a controlling interest.

As shopping and fashion trends shifted, there were attempts to make the brand more hip and appeal to a younger woman. At one point, Angelina Jolie, Gisele Bündchen and Kate Winslet were the models for the brand’s print ads.

For a while, there was a revolving door of CEOs. Fetter left in 2011 but after working at other apparel companies, he returned in 2015 to the top job at St. John Knits. He had his hands full, rethinking the company’s retail strategy and reintroducing the St. John Sport line.

Last year, he had to lay off approximately 200 workers as more production was shifted from St. John Knits’ knitting and sewing factories in Irvine to a company-owned factory in Mexico and production elsewhere.

The luxury company announced it was closing its flagship store earlier this year at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., after being in the mall for more than two decades. Instead, it recently opened a new concept store at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, Calif.