Thank heaven for little girls and the dolls they play with.
This story first appeared in the June 26, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That’s what Howard Kahn, chief executive officer of Kahn Lucas, is thinking now that his firm has purchased the iconic Alexander Doll Co. “The late Madame Beatrice Alexander founded her company almost 90 years ago on many of the same principles we have practiced at Kahn Lucas,” said Kahn in an exclusive interview, citing a shared belief that their products nurture girls in their early development. “It’s a cultural fit.”
Kahn declined to disclose the purchase price on Alexander Doll, which was owned by The Kaizen Breakthrough Partnership private equity firm managed by the Gefinor banking group. With the acquisition, Kahn Lucas, a maker of girls’ dresses, including matching dresses for dolls, will have revenues of between $200 million and $250 million, with Alexander Doll representing about one-third of the volume, according to industry estimates.
Kahn Lucas for four years has been a licensing partner with Alexander Doll under Kahn Lucas’ Dollie & Me brand of matching girl and doll apparel and fashion accessories. The transaction includes some “experiential” components, including two setups at FAO Schwarz — the Madame Alexander Doll Factory where girls can create their own dolls, and the Newborn Nursery, where girls learn about babies in nurseries as preparation for when they have siblings. Kahn also said that Alexander Doll brings valuable data on customers and sales.
Alexander Doll was started by Madame Alexander on her kitchen table in Brooklyn when she was 28. Her vision was that dolls should engage a child’s imagination and contribute to her happiness and understanding of the world. Over the decades, literature, fairy tales and movies became inspirations for creating the dolls, some taken from characters in “Alice in Wonderland,” “Little Women” and “Gone With the Wind.” In the Forties, Madame Alexander developed the first dolls with “sleep eyes” that open and close, and the first dolls made of DuPont hard plastic. In 1955, she introduced the first full-figured fashion doll called Cissy who wore designer outfits. Madame Alexander died in 1990 at the age of 95. Alexander Doll collectibles are priced around $400, while the play dolls are priced at $30.
Kahn Lucas, based in Lancaster, Pa., and New York City, has an even longer history. The privately held, fourth-generation family firm was founded in 1889 and is focused on girls’ fashions for sizes newborn to 16 that are carried at Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us, among other retailers. Alexander Doll represents the dress firm’s first acquisition, though Kahn said he would consider another acquisition, particularly since he’s now competing more squarely against the $600 million American Girl, a division of Mattel.
“We want to own that relationship between a girl and a doll,” said Kahn, who has two daughters and a son. “Girls literally develop emotional intelligence through imaginary, pretend play. A doll could be a girl’s best friend or her sister.”