Of the five labels in the Xcel Brands portfolio, chief executive officer Bob D’Loren has taken a special interest in Judith Ripka over the past year.
“It’s one of our businesses I’ve been very involved in, particularly on the creative side,” D’Loren told WWD.
He’s led a retooling and reimagining of the Judith Ripka brand, first taking back the operations from a licensee, then resetting the creative direction, production quality and distribution and launching seven collections this year, including an equestrian-themed line inspired by his love of horsemanship, and another inspired by performances he’s seen at Lincoln Center. Xcel has also begun marketing Judith Ripka aggressively, with a billboard up in Times Square, ads running in several publications and increased social media.
In December, Judith Ripka launches The Adoro Collection, designed in collaboration with architect Elena Manferdini, a direct reflection of the connection between jewelry design and architecture, which D’Loren knows a thing or two about. He has a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University.
“Architects are trained to think in dimensions, form, shape and light — all of those things a jewelry designer would think about,” D’Loren said. “A lot of inspiration for jewelry designers does come from architecture.”
The Adora Collection has four styles in 18-karat gold, diamonds and white enamel, and will have a limited run. Only 25 pieces of each style has been produced.
“She does beautiful work in sculpture, with kitchen objects and in crystal,” aside from creating buildings, D’ Loren said. “We reached out to her. She worked up some 3-D CAD [computer-aided design] images and worked with our product design and development team. Frankly, we would not have thought to do the things she thought of.”
The Los Angeles-based Manferdini has more than 20 years of experience in architecture, art, design and education. She’s a licensed engineer in Italy and a licensed architect in Switzerland.
And she’s the first in a new strategy at Xcel tapping women from different creative fields outside the world of jewelry to design collections under the Judith Ripka umbrella. “We plan to do them twice per year,” D’Loren said.
Next up is Amale Andraos, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, who will collaborate on a collection launching in 2021. “We plan to collaborate with artists, sculptors and others in the creative world — not just architects. It’s about reimagining jewelry through the unique aesthetic lens of multiple creative sources,” D’Loren said.
Xcel, which also owns Isaac Mizrahi, Halston, C. Wonder and Longaberger, acquired Judith Ripka and its intellectual property for a value of about $22.5 million in 2014. Ripka created her first 18-karat gold jewelry collection in 1977, received several awards during her career and gained popularity through her appearances on QVC, where she was the first female jewelry designer to have her own show.
Among the changes to the brand this year, there’s been a big investment in state-of-the-art technologies including 3-D design, consumer insight testing, trend analytics and product life cycle management systems.
“We pivoted back to distributing to premium independent jewelry stores,” so the brand is currently sold in about 30, though D’Loren anticipates the distribution widening to 150 by the end of 2021. He also said, “We will begin drop shipping for premium department stores — Neiman’s, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.”
Newmark, a commercial real estate agency, has been engaged to find retail store locations. “We plan to roll out five quickly,” D’Loren said. Madison Avenue would be among the locations. “There are some attractive deals to be made,” D’Loren said. Currently, there are no Judith Ripka stores.
Eight months ago, Janice Winter was named president of Judith Ripka, succeeding Beth Vogel. “Along with the new role for Winter, Xcel Brands enlisted a new digital and creative team,” D’Loren said. “Beth was running the brand more as a licensed business. Now it’s a vertical business and very different.” Judith Ripka herself, has been serving as a brand ambassador.
D’Loren declined to disclose the size of the Judith Ripka business, other than saying, “It’s not insignificant. There are probably a handful of brands that do the volume we do.”
Price points range from $250 to as high as $25,000, with the majority of styles priced from $500 to $2,000. New collections appear quarterly. Top sellers include the Eternity Ring Collections and the Vienna Equestrian Group. The recently introduced Isola collection has a more casual approach.
“We have really taken the time to rethink the brand while staying true to its DNA,” D’Loren said. “Judith was always known for texture and color. Everything is moving to more modern style and polish, so for us it’s how you incorporate texture and color and achieve this more modern aesthetic.”