Talbots: Searching for a New Identity … Again

So that whole “we’re going to reinvent ourselves” thing that Talbots was doing in an effort to save their brand? It doesn’t seem to be working out so well, as the company recently announced that it’s letting go of its CEO, Trudy Sullivan, after her four years at the helm of the struggling brand. This comes on the tail of their announcement in September that they’d be firing Michael Smaldone, their chief creative officer, who was in charge of the overall vision of the company. In their statement announcing Sullivan’s departure, the Talbots’ reps said that they’d be cutting 100 jobs from their Hingham headquarters and will be putting their advertising on hold as well (that means, sorry, no more Julianne Moore ads).

Talbots stock has lost 80 percent of its value in the past year, and private equity firm Sycamore Partners, which tried to claim a majority stake in the company this summer, has since emerged with a takeover bid and has offered to purchase all remaining or outstanding shares. Apparently that deal was shrugged off by Talbots and the stocks have been on the (slight) upswing since the announcement, so it’s a wait and see game. Retail analysts think that the decision to let Sullivan go came too late and are wondering whether the brand will be able to bounce back.

So what’s in the cards for Talbots? It’s hard to say. Their efforts to go young have ended up alienating their core customers, which is bad. But those very same core customers are still lamenting the loss of the Christmas sweaters and star-spangled blazers, which is worse. Eileen Fisher and Chicos are the two mature women’s lines that seem to be doing relatively well comparatively. But Talbots could also swing for the fences, not unlike the way Tommy Hilfiger does in its “Meet the Hilfigers” ad campaign, which both channels Wes Anderson and makes Ralph Lauren look insufferably stuffy. Maybe Talbots needs to go rogue, and consider a cross-promotional mash-up with Urban Outfitters, who has a fair share of ridiculous sweaters on offer. Convince the hipsters that Talbots is cool, and you’re golden.