Haute Hippie is ready for the next leg of its trip — under the ownership of Hilco.
The global financial services firm has bought the intellectual property of the contemporary brand and is developing a strategy to keep growing the business under the design direction of Cady Vaccaro, who spent nine years at Alice + Olivia and more recently worked at Sam Edelman. The purchase price could not be learned.
“We’re planning on keeping the brand upmarket with its current distribution,” said Jeffrey Hecktman, chairman and chief executive officer of Hilco. “You’ve seen it in Saks, you’ve seen it in Neiman Marcus, you’ve seen it in Nordstrom. Our intent is to continue the same path that they’ve had in the past.”
Hecktman said the brand has plenty of potential with “a very loyal and strong following around the world.” Haute Hippie is sold in more than 340 stores in the U.S. and also established its own retail presence in New York and West Hollywood.
Hilco, which also has an investment in Halston, expects much to stay the same at Haute Hippie and the brand plans to continue using the same factories.
“There’s not a lot of change: the same quality and type of product that the customers have loved and are looking forward to seeing is what we’re continuing to do,” Hecktman said.
Joining Hilco in the deal were luxury fashion distributor MadaLuxe and another partner that Hilco declined to identify. Some employees are expected to stay with the brand through the transition.
As much as things are seen staying the same at the brand, the change in ownership marks a significant turn of the page for founder Trish Wescoat Pound.
The brand’s homepage made an oblique reference to the changes with the statement: “Dear Tribe, We have a new spirit guide. XX – The Hippies.”
Pound did not respond to a query Wednesday and her immediate plans could not be learned. The Oklahoma native got her start in fashion as a receptionist at Calvin Klein and quickly made a name for herself, moving to Theory and then Liz Claiborne Inc. as chief merchandising officer of the firm’s contemporary brands.
She used her severance payment from the rapidly reorganizing Claiborne to start Haute Hippie in 2008, looking to fill the space between contemporary and luxury with a high-end gypsy vibe.
Despite launching into the maw of the recession and financial crisis, the brand found its feet and a fast following, becoming a bright spot in the market.
But Haute Hippie hit some operational bumps in the road. Several years ago a number of employees allegedly used corporate cards for spending sprees, costing the company $700,000 to $800,000 and shaving 10 to 12 points off profit margins for two seasons. Pound’s husband, financier Jesse Cole, stepped in as ceo and brought in TPG cofounder David Bonderman, who acquired about 10 percent of the business as a personal investment.
That gave the brand some breathing room, but earlier this year it was looking for new investors just as business in the contemporary space in general grew much tougher.
Pound, who was working on numerous aspects of the business — from design to merchandising to production — told WWD in April: “I want to really design more. I don’t want to have to go from the left to the right side of my brain anymore. It’s exhausting and at the end of the day, [it means] going home and having nothing for myself.”
Several suitors were said to have been interested in the company and signed letters of intent. However, Cole left the company in June and no new investor came on board.
Sources familiar with the firm’s finances said the resort and spring seasons were tough and although summer sales showed signs of a turnaround, financing conditions grew tighter and ultimately unbearable.
The new ownership structure could give the brand a fresh start, a chance to dream the dream of high-end vagabond fashion anew.