By  on September 4, 2007

NEW YORK — The breakup of Russell Simmons and Phat Farm has presented an unusual situation for Phat Fashions: With its empire now separated—into the hands of both Simmons and Kellwood Corp.—the future of its men’s brands remains in flux.

Late last month, Simmons announced his resignation as CEO of Phat Farm, the hip-hop brand he founded 15 years ago, breaking his ties with Kellwood. Simmons took his newest divisions, Russell Simmons Argyle Culture and Atman, with him.

Kellwood’s remaining Phat Farm men’s brands, the fashion-forward XV and classic Phat Farm, have been added to the creative oversight of Simmons’ estranged wife, Kimora Lee Simmons, who currently heads up Baby Phat. Bernt Ullmann, president of Phat Fashions, continues to oversee all Phat brands. Kellwood also announced its plans to license the young men’s lines to Longstreet Industries, a division of Stretch-O-Rama Inc., which already produces several other Phat Farm and Baby Phat categories.

Although it has been widely acknowledged that Baby Phat has long outperformed Phat Farm, Kimora Lee Simmons has never been charged with the creative direction of a men’s wear line. Andrew Jassin, managing director of the Jassin-O’Rourke Group, a fashion consulting firm, believes the men’s lines will need additional oversight. “Kellwood has a good president in place with Bernt Ullmann,” he said, “but they’re going to need to hire a key merchant that is more skilled in the area of the hip-hop men’s market.”

Kellwood may also find itself challenged without the familiar face and dynamic personality of Russell Simmons to front its XV and Phat Farm brands. While Jassin believes Phat Farm can certainly survive without Simmons on board—look at Nautica’s success post–David Chu, he said—“Kellwood is going to have to find a good vehicle for its marketing and advertising.”

Meanwhile, Russell Simmons’ new mission is finding a place in the men’s wear world for his two remaining trademark apparel properties, Russell Simmons Argyle Culture and Atman.

“I’ve spent all my creative energy focusing on young men’s brands,” Simmons told DNR in his booth at MAGIC last week. “I want to dedicate my energy to adult men’s wear brands.”

His new brands, launched at retail for fall ’07, are a vast departure from the trendy young men’s Phat Farm brand that helped ignite the urban apparel industry. Russell Simmons Argyle Culture and Atman are both aimed at a more mature, contemporary man—one that, explained Simmons, more closely resembles the person he is today.

“I’m making what’s in my heart,” he said. “I find myself wearing too many Ralph Lauren shirts, when I should be making my own.”

Simmons said he is currently seeking investment, and is exploring both public and private ownership. And, he acknowledged, “we need creative help,” adding that he hoped to retain his vice-president of design, Kevin Saer, who has worked for Simmons for the last 10 years. There has not yet been clear brand delineation for Saer, who is currently charged as creative director of Phat Farm, XV, Russell Simmons Argyle Culture and Atman.

Still, questions swirl about the future of Russell Simmons Argyle Culture and Atman, no longer under the umbrella (and taken care of by the wallet) of Kellwood, which purchased Phat Farm for $140 million in January 2004.

But in the current retail environment, said Jassin, “there are lots of investors, both financial and strategic, that want to put their money into something. If they have initial success this fall, they’ll have no trouble finding funding.”

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