By Kenneth Richard | The Impressionist
One of fashion branding greatest, Mike Toth, Founder, President and Chief Creative Officer of Toth + Co., passed at the age of 62 due to throat cancer last Thursday at Massachusetts General Hospital. Toth created ad campaigns for the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Nautica, Keds, John Varvatos, Pepe Jeans and others.
Toth built one of the first agencies in fashion that worked equally on strategic development as it did on creative development. Pioneering a brand DNA process that helps brands reveal their essence and discover their DNA prior to developing creative. His acumen for branding helped brands like Tommy Hilfiger and John Varvatos gain their meteoric rise turning many of them into household names.
Toth had unique sense of Americana, he once described to The Impressionist about his first meeting with Tommy Hilfiger and upon noticing a book about Norman Rockwell on the designer desk, proceeded to define the Tommy’s brands as the “boy who stole the apple pie off the window ledge, but once you caught him you forgave him for it.” Toth helped brands like John Varvatos develop their “U.S.A” denim positioning and creative as well as brands like Wrangler reinvent themselves.
Toth founded his firm, Toth Design, in 1982, after having spent 5 years in the ad department of Wembley Industries, a New Orleans tie manufacturer. His first client was a mail order company, Popular Club Plan, which Toth renamed J. Crew, going on to build the first “lifestyle” catalogue. He relocated his firm to Concord, Mass., in 1984 and picked up clients including Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Hart, Schaffner & Marx and Chaps Ralph Lauren. Over the years his client roster included Ked’s, Façonnable, Johnson & Murphy, Not Your Daughter’s Jeans, Nike, Reebok, and Swarovski to name a few. His firm also developed brand identities for Harvard University and Boston University.
In 1993, Toth started working with Tommy Hilfiger when the company was doing $80 million in revenue. When he left eight years later, Hilfiger was generating $1.2 billion in revenue. When Reed Krakoff left Tommy Hilfiger to join Coach, he asked Toth to help him dust of the brand using Toth’s DNA process. Together they developed new positioning and creative for Coach, producing one of American fashion’s greatest turn around success stories.
As a creative director, Toth partnered with photographers such as Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel and Arthur Elgort. He took up photography along the way turning his lens toward his passion of all things American from kids with freckles to rodeos. These photographs were compiled into a book, “US: American Stories,” curated by his daughter, Kezia, which had an exhibit in Boston last winter. Toth also penned “Fashion Icon,” an analysis of the role of branding in the fashion industry in 1993.
Toth is survived by his wife, Susan; and four children, Zachary, Kezia, Maximilian and Mikaela, and five grandchildren.
A funeral mass will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Irene Church, 181 East Street, Carlisle, Mass., followed by a burial at Green Cemetery on Bedford Road in Carlisle, Mass. A reception will follow the mass and burial at Punkatasset Farm at 775 Monument Street in Concord, Mass.