NEW YORK — The Jones Group Inc. is about to get a fresh and analytical eye to help rejuvenate its business.
Investor James Mitarotonda, chairman and chief executive officer of Barington Capital Group, is set to become a director of the company at its annual meeting today.
That will expand the number of directors on Jones’ board to 11 and bring inside an investor who has taken stakes in and advocated for change at The Warnaco Group Inc., Dillard’s Inc., Nautica, Harry Winston and others.
Barington, which controls about 2.3 percent of Jones’ stock, is seen as a constructive activist, which seeks to work collaboratively with the management of undervalued firms that need sprucing up. Barington has also proven its willingness to go directly to shareholders to try to bring about change it wants. The investor was part of a group that went several rounds with Dillard’s before the staid department store agreed to take on new board members.
“I do think he was very helpful in challenging the Dillard’s board and the Dillard’s way,” said retail veteran Allen Questrom, who knows Mitarotonda and has himself led turnarounds at J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Macy’s and Barneys New York. “He’s helped the Dillard’s company, the Dillard’s family.”
Dillard’s did not return a request for comment on its experience with Barington.
Questrom said activist investors can challenge the status quo at a company and are not always welcome, but can also open people’s eyes if they are analytical in their approach, as Mitarotonda is.
“If you have a company that’s not doing well and it has not done well for several years, I would welcome somebody like that, who I believe is analytical and looks at lots of different companies,” Questrom said.
Mitarotonda, who cofounded Barington in 1991 and got his start in the Bloomingdale’s executive training program, might serve as a catalyst at Jones, as he did at Warnaco.
Barington led a group that bought 5.6 percent of Warnaco in 2006 and urged, among other things, that the company explore the disposition of its underperforming intimates and swimwear businesses.
Joseph Gromek, former president and chief executive officer of Warnaco, said he met with Mitarotonda several times that summer. And while many of his suggestions were things Warnaco was already considering, he added some fuel to the fire.
“With Jim leaning on us, we probably took action a little sooner rather than later,” Gromek said. “I find Jim to be a straightforward, solid business guy. He was not unpleasant to deal with. In the end, we implemented some of the suggestions he had….And I think all of our shareholders did very well, including Barington. Jim was constructive, he was not destructive.”
Mitarotonda helped Warnaco trim some of its brands and focus in on its larger businesses, such as Calvin Klein.
Similar steps could be taken at Jones, which has 35 brands, but just six that it considers core, including Nine West and Jones New York, and six that are “emerging,” such as Stuart Weitzman and Kurt Geiger.
Analyst Janet Kloppenburg, said Jones has some “fantastic brand franchises” and could do more with them.
“The problem is that you don’t have the legacy brands generating the kind of profitability that would enable you to deliver industry-average, top- and bottom-line growth and then you could fuel these newer businesses,” Kloppenburg said.
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast