Liz Claiborne Inc. is said to be close to a deal to sell the Ellen Tracy brand to a consortium led by Windsong Brands, a Westport, Conn.-based private equity firm.
A source familiar with the talks said a deal is "close" to completion. Another financial source used the term "imminent" to describe the pending transaction.
WWD reported on Nov. 1 that Windsong was among those said to be bidding for the brand.
A source close to the talks said Windsong is coleading the consortium with the Radius Group, but declined to provide more information. Other investors in the consortium are a private investment group led by Barry Sternlicht and American Capital Strategies Ltd.
The sources said the parties are in the latter stages of due diligence. It is believed the investment group and the apparel giant already have agreed on price, but the dollar figure could not be learned by press time.
Executives at Claiborne and Windsong both declined comment.
Sternlicht is chairman and chief executive officer of Starwood Capital Group, a real estate investment and private equity firm he formed in 1991. Starwood has headquarters in Greenwich, Conn. Sternlicht founded Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. He also led the expansion of the W Hotels brand, as well as the St. Regis.
American Capital is no stranger to fashion for Baby Boomers. It recently bought Appleseeds Brands, a private label apparel brand for women and men ages 55 and older.
Ellen Tracy was bought by Claiborne in September 2002 for about $180 million, ending the brand's 53-year run as a private firm. Company founder Herbert Gallen continued to serve as chairman, and his wife, Linda Allard, remained as design director, until their retirement in 2003. Gallen passed away last September at age 92.
In its heyday, Ellen Tracy was a powerhouse with annual volume of $300 million. At the time of its sale to Claiborne, annual volume was around $200 million, according to industry sources.
One industry source said, "Ellen Tracy was once a great brand, but became a shadow of what it used to be after its sale to Claiborne, due in part to the retirement of Gallen and Allard." The source cited Allard as the driving force behind the brand. He noted that the current "volume is believed to have dropped to around $100 million."
"We think it is one of the foremost trademarks with a great history," said Andrew Jassin, managing director of the New York consulting firm Jassin O'Rourke Group. "It is the first brand that existed in the bridge zone. It has always been known, up until recently, for great fabric and styling. The Ellen Tracy brand has a loyal Baby and Echo Boomer customer mix who have been disappointed since the sale of Ellen Tracy to Liz Claiborne."
Jassin believes Tracy could once again be one of the premier American women's brands provided it is "run properly and licensed out" appropriately.
"There are line extensions that could be expanded to include better footwear and jewelry and through all of the fashion zones. What the Ellen Tracy brand needs is better marketing to get back to its roots. It has a loyal customer waiting for new product to come back to the market," he said.
Windsong focuses on investments in leading middle-market consumer companies that own strong recognizable brands. The fund makes minority investments in both public and private companies. Windsong Brands has partnered with others in investments in Joe's Jeans and Caribbean Joe. Its founder, chairman and ceo is William Sweedler.
Prior to founding Windsong, Sweedler was president and ceo of Joe Boxer, now a wholly owned division of the Iconix Brand Group. He also was a founder of Windsong Allegiance Group, an apparel manufacturer and brand manager, a firm in which he still retains the role of chairman. WAG owns, manages or licenses the brands Como Sport, PRX Performance, Calvin Klein Golf, Joseph Abboud Classics and Pivot Rules.
Sources familiar with the consortium said the investors want to bring the Ellen Tracy brand back up to the better bridge category.
A sale of Tracy would almost complete the $4.99 billion Claiborne's program of disposals of underperforming or noncore brands in its drive to focus on "power brands." In September, the group sold four moderate brands — Emma James, Tapemeasure, JH Collectibles and Intuitions — to the Regatta division of Li & Fung USA, a subsidiary of Li & Fung Ltd., for an undisclosed amount.
Sources said Dana Buchman most likely will not be sold since, as reported last month, Claiborne now is leaning toward licensing the bridge brand to a retailer. Claiborne executives declined comment.
“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