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From Films to Fashion: Weinstein Goes Boffo With Halston Purchase

Harvey Weinstein has bought himself a fashion label fit for a movie.

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NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein has bought himself a fashion label fit for a movie.

The Weinstein Co. and Hilco Consumer Capital LLC said Monday that they are buying the Halston brand from Neema Clothing Ltd. and its owner James J. Ammeen. This confirms a page one report in WWD that day. Ammeen will remain an investor in the new Halston Co.

The plan is to rejuvenate the iconic American brand, and the new owners have called on Tamara Mellon, the founder and president of Jimmy Choo Ltd., to help steer the turnaround. Mellon will assist with the creative direction at Halston, as well as put together a brand structure and management.

Weinstein said he was attracted to the brand’s illustrious history. “In the motion picture business, you have films that are part of your library,” he told WWD. “You make a movie 20 years ago, like ‘My Left Foot,’ or ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ and it still exists. It’s in the DNA of the brand.”

The new Weinstein venture is separate from Marchesa, and designers Georgina Chapman, Weinstein’s girlfriend, and Keren Craig will continue to design that line. Marchesa’s investors include restaurateur Giuseppe Cipriani and real estate entrepreneur Steven Witkoff, and purportedly Weinstein himself. According to the movie executive, Chapman and her design partner Craig are not selling Marchesa, and though there is interest in the brand from prospective buyers, they would, if anything, only consider selling a small stake. “They’re English, like Tamara,” Weinstein said. “They are not giving up their independence.”

And Weinstein wanted to set the record straight about Chapman specifically. “Georgina has no desire to leave Marchesa at all, which is a brand she does with Keren,” he said. “And secondly, she said that I am the last person she would work for.”

But Weinstein insisted his interest in fashion predates his involvement with Marchesa. “The idea of a brand came to me long before Marchesa,” he said. “When I first raised $1.2 billion in financing for our company, I told everybody that Arnon Milchan had bought a substantial stake in Puma, and that was my inspiration. I said, ‘We need to find something we can put our content through.’ They sold their shares, built the company and made a substantial profit in helping Puma grow. In Halston, we found that brand that relates to the kind of movies that we make.”

This story first appeared in the March 13, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Weinstein even plans to turn the Halston story into a documentary. “I find his life incredible,” he said of the designer, who died in 1990. “I don’t think people know the extent of how talented and way ahead of his time he was and there is great drama on the business of the story, too, and a lesson about how people lose things.”

Private equity firm Hilco Consumer Capital will lead the group of investors in the acquisition, and oversee the day-to-day operations until a team of executives is assembled. The investment group is putting together an advisory board of top business and fashion executives to find a chief executive officer and lead designer, as well as a creative team for the newly created Halston Co.

A board of directors has been formed as part of the acquisition, which consists of James Salter, ceo of HCC; Jeffrey B. Hecktman, chairman and ceo of HCC parent Hilco Trading LLC; John Semel, TWC’s senior vice president of business development; Ammeen; Weinstein, and Mellon.

Mellon bought Jimmy Choo in the Nineties, and with her creative acumen and nose for business transformed it into one of the hottest footwear and accessories companies, gathering a celebrity following and opening stores worldwide. She then sold the company to a private equity fund, but maintained a stake. She will continue in her role as founder and president of Jimmy Choo. “On the last private equity deal, I reinvested heavily back into the business, with a plan to exit it in five years,” she said. “I am very committed to Choo and also acting as an adviser to Halston, overseeing management structure and the creative vision going forward.”

Mellon met Weinstein through mutual friends about five years ago, and brought the brand to the movie mogul’s attention. Mellon said she felt attracted to Halston because “the history of the brand is so incredible. He was one of the greatest American designers of the last century. His clothes are still modern today. And everything that surrounded his life was so glamorous. You had Bianca Jagger at Studio 54 with his one-shoulder asymmetric gowns, and Liza Minnelli and Andy Warhol.

“We plan to really respect the DNA of the brand and bring it forward,” she continued. “That’s really where everybody has gone wrong with Halston over the years.”

Weinstein clearly is best known for making movies, but said he wasn’t a total fashion stranger. “You have to remember, we created ‘Project Runway,'” he said. “It took us a year to do [buy Halston]. Tamara got me the book by Phaidon about his life. I remember sitting there with Tamara, seeing design after design, the Onassis hats, the sketches and even the way he advertised. The illustrations are amazing, they are artworks. What we have in the archives is like a treasure chest of incredible art. I feel we have opened up the doors to the last scene of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and the whole warehouse is ours.”

Since its namesake designer died, the Halston story has been one of turbulence. The brand was relaunched in 1997, and bought by Ammeen from Heller Financial in 1999. Since the relaunch, it has had a revolving door of designers who tried to put their imprint on the brand, but often got more ink in the tabloids with reports of staff abuse, alcohol problems, botched plastic surgery and dramatic departures. Randolph Duke, Kevan Hall, Craig Natiello and Piyawat Pattanapuckdee each passed through Halston’s threshold. It took Bradley Bayou, who joined in December 2002, to stabilize the image of the brand, dressing the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Queen Latifah, Debra Messing, Janet Jackson and Eve. Most recently, Chaiken designer Jeff Mahshie is said to have quietly been consulting on the line.

“It had an illustrious past, and it went through some change and turmoil in the Nineties,” said Ammeen. “I was able to get my hands on it and slowed it down, and eliminated a lot of licensees several years ago and nursed the brand. We made it smaller to someday make it bigger. We quietly took it back to a luxury status and all of a sudden people started becoming interested.”

The label is currently sold at Bergdorf Goodman, and has been picked up at Jeffrey New York this spring. Ammeen wouldn’t disclose the selling price for Halston, but said, “They made me a terrific offer.”

“I felt this partnership would be a powerful one,” he continued. “There will be a new Halston with a partnership made up of people that can bring something to the brand, from the point of view of financing, visibility, style sense and brand management. All the things you need to be successful.”

Hilco Consumer Capital, which is based in Toronto, is an investor in retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers of consumer products. “Our partners at Hilco are terrific,” Weinstein said. “They will be running the day-to-day business with John Semel at my company. I hope to concentrate on the marketing side and leave Tamara and that whole creative side, and let the guys who run the day-to-day run the day-to-day.”

Asked if he could envision any more fashion acquisitions with his investment partners, Weinstein quipped, “Only if Tamara comes with me.”

Mellon was not opposed to the thought. “If a brand as interesting as Halston came up, we would explore that,” she said. “But it’s very rare to find something as interesting as Halston.”

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