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NEW YORK — It was 5:30 p.m. on Friday and Damon Dash was starting the weekend a little early.
Saturday was his birthday and he had every reason to celebrate. Not only was he turning 32, but the chief executive officer of Rocawear, Roc-A-Fella Records and Roc-A-Fella Films was toasting to quite a year.
This story first appeared in the May 8, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
His clothing line, Rocawear, has reached the $300 million mark in its third year. He has purchased the rights to produce, manufacture and distribute the contemporary sportswear collection, C. Ronson, and the former Moomba night spot, which he has renamed The Breakfast Club. Dash also premiered “Death of a Dynasty” — a film he wrote, directed, produced and acted in — at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday, and bought Armadale Vodka, the premium Scottish liquor mentioned in many of Jay-Z’s lyrics.
Why a vodka company? “Because I like to get drunk and I don’t like to pay for it,” he said.
It’s that attitude and party lifestyle for which Dash is known. A regular on the Manhattan party scene, Dash has successfully turned his fun into budding conglomerate. While he is in the Rocawear offices every day, he is running all of his businesses at the same time — taking phone calls from his best friend and business partner, rapper Jay-Z, negotiating the next license for Rocawear and doing an interview about his new movie. Dash said he would like to add Rocawear home, men’s swimwear and women’s lingerie collections to round out its portfolio.
“I love women, sexy women. I want to make women look sexy,” he said, while pouring himself and three others in the area a shot of Armadale. “You think maybe I should do thongs? Flavored thongs, Damon Dash flavored thongs. I like the sound of that.”
Despite his playfulness, Dash really does take his business ventures seriously. He admits that while he does enjoy drinking Armadale vodka, he bought the company and C. Ronson because of new opportunities it can offer him.
“The C. Ronson collection presents an exciting opportunity to extend the reach of Rocawear,” he said of the brand which is on target to reach $1 million this year. “Partnering with Charlotte [Ronson] on her collection will allow us to capitalize on both of our strengths — Charlotte’s design expertise and Rocawear’s ability to…manufacture, market and deliver a quality product.”
Ronson has moved her collection into the new Rocawear offices on the 38th floor of 1411 Broadway in New York. The C. Ronson line launched in 1999 and can be found at high-end specialty retailers across the country, as well as in its freestanding retail location at 269 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan.
Also new to the company is Minji Lee, who was just brought on board to design Rocawear juniors. With a history in design working at such companies as Nautica and Polo Jeans, Lee took on the Rocawear position hoping she could be free to be creative, more so than at her previous companies.
“I was looking for a new energy,” she said. “I wanted to do something hip and street.”
She has found that in Rocawear. While she admits that pleasing the licensee, Nesi Apparel, is sometimes not exactly the same as pleasing Dash, she has found that happy medium and created a more fashion-based fall collection than the company has offered in the past.
“Minji’s talents are what Rocawear represents,” Dash said. “It’s fresh and sexy. She went away to Asia for three months and came back with a great line…and she’s a black belt in karate, so don’t [mess] with her.”
But that’s not all this media mogul has achieved. While the Rocawear label is focused on the hip-hop lifestyle, which originated on the streets of Manhattan, Dash has managed to break barriers. The line is not only hanging in specialty stores as Against All Odds and Up Against The Wall, but also in the men’s departments of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.
“I didn’t blame people for being skeptical of us at first,” he said. “They didn’t know what we could do. But they know now and that’s what matters.”
At Macy’s East, in particular, the store has been pleased with the performance of Rocawear and has picked up the men’s, women’s and children’s lines.
“The sell-throughs have been very consistent throughout the season,” said Daphne Pappas, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of Macy’s East. “We are planning on expanding them from 12 to 50 doors for fall 2003.”
Dash also led the launch in November of State Property, a men’s sportswear line marketed by rapper Beanie Seigel, who is on his record label. That line is also available in department stores, as well as on the Rocawear Web site.
Rocawear continues to advertise in publications such as Vibe, YM and V, as well as on urban billboards. Last season, Naomi Campbell made her debut as the face of Rocawear juniors. This season, it will continue with Campbell, but introduce former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham as a new face.
“My company and I approached Damon with this concept of what I thought Rocawear should be,” Campbell said Tuesday, between takes at the shoot for the next campaign. “At the same time, I found out that Damon was looking for me to be in the campaign, so I was very flattered. I think that Rocawear has a great future and I am proud to be doing it.”
Next year at this time, Dash is sure to be toasting to another year. His target is for Rocawear to reach $500 million. But for now, it’s off to The Breakfast Club for his 32nd birthday celebration.