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Ousted American Eagle CEO Takes Over Luxury Jewelry Brand John Hardy

Robert Hanson started as CEO of John Hardy on Aug. 1.

Posted on August 4, 2014, at 6:50 p.m. ET

Robert Hanson, the former chief executive officer of American Eagle, was just named CEO of luxury jewelry brand John Hardy.

Hanson was ousted from the teen retailer in a surprise move this January after a bitter clash with a handful of longtime executives who campaigned against him behind the scenes, BuzzFeed reported earlier this year. The executive, who spent 23 years at Levi's prior to American Eagle, is now at the helm of a distinctly different company, one that sells $450 earrings and $1,595 bracelets at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

"What attracted me to John Hardy was the fact that it was such an authentic brand, number one, the fact it was also a mission-driven company, number two, and the fact that in partnership with an excellent private-equity investor, we have a tremendous opportunity to drive growth in a sector that has got nice sector tailwinds as well," Hanson told BuzzFeed. He started the role on Aug. 1 after months of deliberation.

John Hardy was just purchased by Catterton Partners, a consumer-focused private equity firm that counts Build-A-Bear and Restoration Hardware as previous investments, and Edible Arrangements and Flywheel among those in its current portfolio. Hanson was brought on in conjunction with the acquisition.

Hanson said he had confidence in the luxury brand because consumers today have increasingly become "high-low" purchasers.

"They might wear our brand with a piece of fast-fashion that they bought at an opening price point, as well as a luxury Birkin bag," he explained.

At the same time, the jewelry sector as a whole is "relatively unbranded," which represents a major opportunity for companies like John Hardy in the next 10 to 20 years, he pointed out. Indeed, McKinsey said in a report earlier this year that while branded jewelry makes up just 20% of the overall jewelry market today, its share has doubled since 2003. Consumers' taste for such goods has fueled the rise of brands like David Yurman and Pandora in recent years, according to the consultancy.

"We have an incredibly beautiful brand story but we need to tell it more precisely and more confidently," Hanson said, noting that John Hardy's new marketing campaign will feature model Cara Delevingne. The Bali-inspired brand also plans to expand its e-commerce capabilities and product lines and improve overall operations, he added.

John Hardy sells jewelry inspired by Bali.

John Hardy / Via