By  on September 16, 2011

Vince Camuto wants to get more directly involved with apparel while expanding his signature footwear line.

Camuto Group offered to help its sportswear licensee Bernard Chaus Inc. go private, giving the footwear firm a potential platform to expand its fashion empire with the addition of labels such as Josephine Chaus, Chaus and Cynthia Steffe.

According to Chaus, its shareholders — aside from members of the Chaus family, Camuto and the company’s manufacturer, China Ting Group — would receive a cash consideration of 13 cents for each of their shares. Following the transaction, Camuto would own 41 percent of the company. The company’s stock traded at 15 cents a share Friday, giving it a market capitalization of $5.5 million and a total enterprise value of $15.6 million. Murmurs of Camuto’s interest in Chaus were first reported by WWD in December.

“We’ve had a very close working relationship with Camuto,” Ariel Chaus, vice president of business development, told WWD. “We would be best able to grow the business as a private company [with this deal].”

Last year, Chaus inked a deal to produce Vince Camuto sportswear and ready-to-wear for fall, which helped replace volume that was lost when the company’s licensing deal to make Kenneth Cole sportswear was abandoned in October.

Camuto co-founded Nine West and serves as creative director and chief executive officer at the company that bears his name. The firm is the master licensee for Jessica Simpson Collection, which inked a deal last year to develop Jessica Simpson sportswear with The Jones Group Inc. and has plans to add men’s footwear and, at some stage, men’s apparel.

Its footwear business has expanded substantially and now is moving upmarket with the addition of the VC Signature by Vince Camuto collection. Priced slightly higher than his Vince Camuto line, VC Signature will launch in November at Nordstrom, Vince Camuto stores and high-end specialty stores worldwide. The resort collection features 35 styles done in Italian leathers and exotic skins with a feminine spirit. There are color blocked espadrilles, sculpted wood platform and bejeweled and tribal sandals in bright colors. Prices range from $195 to $295 for shoes and sandals and $325 to $495 for boots and booties. (The Vince Camuto collection retails for $100 to $250).

“We’ve been asked by several high-end retailers for a higher price point, giving the great value that we known for,” said Camuto of his decision to go in a more elevated direction. “There’s an opening in the market place for great leathers and great materials at a little higher in the contemporary market.”

Camuto is also focused on opening his own stores, some of which will be converted from multibrand ShoeBox stores. The first two locations are expected to open later this year in Grand Central Terminal and SoHo in New York and will carry only Vince Camuto branded items.

The proposed transaction with Chaus would be structured as a cash merger requiring the approval of no less than two-thirds of Chaus’ shareholders.

If the deal is approved, Ariel Chaus said he would take the helm as chief executive officer, succeeding his mother, Josephine, who will continue to focus on the firm’s merchandising and product development.

But there are still a few hurdles to clear before that happens.

According to Chaus, the proposal is subject to a number of conditions including, the negotiation and execution of definitive agreements, the approval of the transaction by Chaus’ board and shareholders and the receipt of a fairness opinion.

Additionally, the deal would require the approval of the transaction by the boards of Camuto and China Ting, the conversion of certain amounts owed by Chaus into a term loan and a new financing agreement for the company.

Camuto was unavailable to comment on the deal with Chaus, which has referred the offer to its independent directors.

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