Iconix Brand Group Inc. is preparing its Lee Cooper label, acquired 18 months ago, for another westbound British invasion.
Iconix has established LC Partners LLC, a joint venture with Rise Partners, to hold the exclusive rights to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle brand in the U.S. I Brands has in turn been licensed to produce and market men’s and women’s jeanswear for distribution to department and specialty stores.
Marc Garson is chairman of Rise and also of I Brands, a supplier of private-label sportswear to a variety of retailers.
The first Lee Cooper collection under the new joint venture will be rolled out today at the Project show in Las Vegas.
Neil Cole, chief executive officer of Iconix, calls the relationship “the first step in our U.S. strategy for Lee Cooper,” coupling “our Iconix marketing expertise with I Brands’ fashion prowess to be able to deliver the rich heritage of Lee Cooper to the American consumer.”
Purchased from the European affiliate of Sun Capital Partners for $72 million, Lee Cooper is distributed in 80 countries through a network of more than three dozen licensees and already generates about $500 million in sales at retail through wholesale relationships and 240 freestanding Lee Cooper stores. With strength in markets including China, South Korea, India and several European markets including its base in the U.K., the brand sells more than five million pairs of jeans a year. At the time of the purchase, Iconix expected about $14 million in first-year royalties to be generated by the brand.
The existing business is fairly evenly split between jeans and other jeanswear products on one hand and non-denim sportswear on the other, according to Seth Horowitz, chief operating officer of Iconix.
Paralleling the history of U.S. jeans brands like Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler, except with its lineage emanating from East London, the company was founded as a workwear firm, M. Cooper (Overalls) Ltd., in 1908 and quickly adapted to the rise of the counterculture in the Sixties, forming associations with The Rolling Stones and others to help drive demand.
It made the transition from an operating model to a licensing model prior to its acquisition by Iconix.
“The brand headquarters is still in East London and the marketing will continue to come out of the U.K.,” said Horowitz. “We’re extremely fortunate to have a brand with a long history and a great story and we’re keen on doing what we can to project the authenticity of Lee Cooper.”
Garson stressed that the Lee Cooper collection will be jeans-based but hardly relegated to jeans. “This is a jeans-inspired lifestyle brand,” he told WWD. “There’s lots of jeans and other denim product, but it’s a full collection — about 100 styles — with knitwear, wovens, activewear and other components.”
Price points at retail will range from $59 to $120, which Garson considers a sweet spot in the current market, despite the difficult state of denim in general.
“Sameness is the culprit,” he said. “Everything in the market these days looks the same, and basic. Our goal is to provide something different in a premium product and do it at a very fair price.
“Sometimes a downturn opens up opportunities, and we think that may be the case here,” he added.
While he and Horowitz aren’t yet ready to discuss them, they are promising marketing initiatives, including but not relegated to advertising, that will tap into Lee Cooper’s rock roots.
“I would expect something huge,” Horowitz offered. “And soon.”
While Garson’s business at I Brands has been dominated by private-label programs, and an offshore production pipeline favoring China, the affiliation with Iconix and Lee Cooper is the start of what he expects will be a transition into a heavier branded orientation that could also involve acquisitions.
“But first we want to make a killing with Lee Cooper,” he stated.