In those days, the offering included a lineup of luxury cosmetics with an industry source-estimated $10 million in sales with distribution at retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Sephora. But the brand was dropped from Sephora, which made up more than half of its sales, in 2007, eventually leading up to the company’s loan default. That’s when things changed.
Fast-forward to 2016. Vincent Longo the brand, once exclusively prestige, has meandered its way into all kinds of distribution outlets — including walmart.com. And Vincent Longo the man, an Australian-Italian makeup artist who started the cosmetics brand in 1994, is affiliated to that product line in name only, he said. Longo is also entangled in a series of lawsuits with his former business partner Peter Wagner, who bought the brand’s debt when Longo was unable to make payments. Wagner, through attorney John K. Moss, declined to comment for this story, citing ongoing litigation. A trial is scheduled to begin in the Supreme Court of New York City in April.
“I feel that it’s time to…truly put it out there that I have nothing to do with the brand at the point,” Longo said. He was fired from Zaimu — the Wagner-controlled company that licensed his name in order to handle the makeup line — in 2014 for breaches of his employment agreement, according to court documents.
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“I am not curating the brand, so anything that [people] see out there as product newness isn’t the level or the quality that I approve of,” Longo said. “In fact, all of the products that have come out in the last two years I’ve disapproved of…it’s not to my standards, it’s not my level, that’s not how I see the Vincent Longo brand.”
Here’s what happened.
When Longo defaulted on the $1.3 million Citibank NA loan, Wagner — through an entity called PMW Acquisition Co. LLC — bought the debt with a $700,000 credit bid in April 2010, according to court papers. The Vincent Longo trademark secured the loan, according to court documents. Under a forbearance agreement between Longo and PMW, Longo would pay the remaining $600,000 over a five-year period, and in exchange, PMW wouldn’t foreclose on its collateral, or the trademark.
It was as part of that forbearance agreement that Longo licensed his trademark to Zaimu. That trademark license agreement, or TLA, gave him the approval right for things like products and imagery. He was also contracted to Zaimu as copresident and creative marketing and development director, a role where he spent time on “image creation, design, branding and marketing of products,” according to court papers.
For the next few years, Wagner and Longo focused on reformulating the line and a distribution plan, Longo said. In 2013, the pair agreed to hire a marketing agency called the Sevin Group, and with the agency, Vincent Butta and Seth Elliott.
“In order for [Butta] to come in and build the company and commit to the promises he was talking about, he would want certain interests in Zaimu…and I agreed to that,” Longo said. “I circled back with…Wagner and we reached a verbal agreement on how to go into this negotiation.”
Those details included changes to Longo’s employment agreement, the operating agreement between him and Wagner for Zaimu, and the TLA, Longo said. But an exit clause in case Sevin wasn’t the right fit didn’t make it into the final document, Longo said.
“A month later, I see these guys aren’t what they promised,” Longo said. “So as I’m out traveling and out in the world doing promotional work, by the time I circle back into the office, the winds have changed,” Longo continued. “All of a sudden the amended agreements that [Wagner] and I shook hands on were out the window…and he was presenting new amended agreements that I had to sign exactly the way they were being presented.”
Wagner started giving Sevin sign-off rights, and requiring him to be in the office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., court papers show.
“My employment agreement doesn’t say that I need to be in the company between nine and five,” Longo said. “My employment agreement says that I need to be out in the field doing promotional work.”
In April 2014, Longo was fired for not being in the office and “failure to devote sufficient time” to designing products and image creation, according to court documents. In May 2014, he said he sent Zaimu a letter terminating the TLA.
“He’ll say I didn’t perform my role, that I wasn’t present, that I didn’t do this and I wasn’t approving things on time and I would send things back all the time,” Longo said of Wagner. “Well, if you’re giving me mediocrity, I’m going to have to send it back.”
Today, the two parties remain at odds, with PMW suing Longo in June 2014 for $240,000 it says it is owed as part of the $600,000 repayment plan, and asking for a court judgment that it owns the Vincent Longo trademark as it secured the original debt that PMW took on back in 2010. In a separate suit, filed in July 2014, PMW also alleged that Longo didn’t return company property, including computers and a coffee table, and charged non-business expenses to his company credit card.
For his part, Longo counter sued, claiming that Wagner and Sevin conspired to ouster him from the business, seeking a dismissal of the PMW suit and damages. In response to the second suit, Longo maintains that charges on the card were for business expenses.
Supreme Court Judge Eileen Bransten is scheduled to hear the case on April 3.