Outerwear’s Brand Chase Begins

With the apparent demise of Fairbrooke, companies are scrambling to grab its designer licenses, while developments signal a new round of consolidation.

NEW YORK — Now that the Calvin Klein, CK and DKNY outerwear licenses are in play with the apparent demise of the venerable Fairbrooke Enterprises coat firm, industry sources are buzzing about who will seize the names, as well as the importance of licensing in general.

This story first appeared in the August 12, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The fallout from Fairbrooke and other developments also is signaling a new round of consolidation in the sector, which has shrunk considerably in the last decade or so by attrition and through mergers and acquisitions. Several warm winters in the late 1990s also did many companies in.

Industry sources said another veteran outerwear firm, Marvin Richards, has picked up the Calvin Klein and CK coat licenses. They also said S. Rothschild & Co. and G-III Apparel Group are leading contenders for the DKNY coat license.

Tom Murry, president and chief operating officer of Calvin Klein, only said it is close to announcing a new licensee and is evaluating fall coat deliveries. Marvin Richards executives did not return phone calls.

Jeanette Nostra, president of G-III, declined comment other than to say the publicly traded company is in a quiet period due to its pending earnings release. The company produces outerwear for such brands as Sean John, Cole Haan and Kenneth Cole, as well as several in-house brands and team licensing.

Executives at DKNY could not be reached for comment.

Mark Friedman, president and chief executive officer of S. Rothschild, said, “We have been talking to DKNY and have tremendous interest in the label. It would fit with what our company is all about, which is fashion. We’re looking to develop the upscale part of our business.”

In March, S. Rothschild & Co., a large, privately held outerwear firm with several branded and private labels, acquired coat maker MDP and the New England Mackintosh brand “to broaden our business in the lower and middle market tiers,” Friedman said.

Calvin Klein, CK and DKNY were produced by Fairbrooke, the 47-year-old firm that ceased operations last week, as part of long-term deals. But picking up one of the labels won’t guarantee large orders, and a source said volume for those lines had diminished considerably in recent years.

Once news of Fairbrooke’s demise spread, retailers started looking for replacement fall outerwear, even though Calvin Klein Inc., purchased by Phillips-Van Heusen this year, has not revealed fall shipping plans. Instead of introducing new labels to their stores, some said they would increase buys with existing vendors that have proven to be successful with their shoppers.

Last month, Oscar de le Renta signed a licensing deal with Fleet Street to produce outerwear for department stores and specialty stores under the Oscar by Oscar de la Renta label, said Alexander Bolen, director of corporate development. The designer’s outerwear and rainwear will debut next fall. The collection will have one tier that retails between $600 and $1,000 and is sold to stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, and another tier that retails between $450 and $800 and is sold to such stores as Lord & Taylor and Macy’s, said Eliza Reed Bolen, vice president of licensing.

Other big names like Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and JLo by Jennifer Lopez are reportedly shopping for coat deals.

“There must be at least a half-dozen names up in the air,” said one executive who asked not to be named. “None of them have hit the ground yet.”

Ron Gallo, president of Donnkenny Coats, which has the license for Bill Blass outerwear and rainwear, said, “We’re players in the coat market. We’re constantly looking to expand our reach.”

This spring, Donnkenny purchased Rose Cloak, Gallo’s family’s business, which has had the Blass license for the last four years. Donnkenny then folded the Blass portion under its umbrella.

“The coat market is very specific,” Gallo said. “We have built from scratch a brand new label with the help of Bill Blass Ltd.”

Ira Schwartz, president and ceo of Free Country, one of the few outerwear makers that does not have any licensed lines, said, “That’s the name of the game today. Licensing has become a big part of the outerwear business. We’re one of the few companies that is trying to brand ourselves.”