The Camuto Group clearly is interested in contemporary fashion as it has just made its second acquisition in the category.

This story first appeared in the February 4, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

This time, Camuto has acquired a 50 percent stake in Sanctuary Clothing, the North Hollywood, Calif.-based contemporary sportswear firm that launched in 1997. The partnership is with the brand’s founders, Ken and Deb Polanco. Financial terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed.

“The Sanctuary brand appealed to us in many ways; we love the management team and think the brand is a perfect complement to our current business,” said Bob Galvin, president of the Camuto Group. “Our plan now is to support them as they continue to grow. We will help them to get into new categories to make them a full lifestyle brand — jewelry, handbags, footwear, outerwear — they are all good opportunities.”

More immediately, Galvin said he will move the Sanctuary brand into its own showroom in New York within the next couple of months. Currently, its East Coast sales representation is in the Brothers & Sisters multiline showroom in New York.

Sanctuary is presently sold in some 1,200 department and high-end specialty stores, including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s West, Anthropologie, Dillard’s, Ron Herman and Intermix. The apparel wholesales from $59 to $189 and will continue to have its headquarters in North Hollywood, where the Polancos are based.

“We are ready to move the brand into the next level,” Ken Polanco said. “For a partner, we were looking for someone with passion for the fashion business and also looking for someone with experience in other categories, which of course, Camuto has. They have a lot of integrity and we both have the same ultimate goal for the brand.”

Polanco, who declined to disclose the brand’s annual volume, said he is confident a Sanctuary footwear collection will launch for fall 2009.

Hillary Fritz, the newly hired group president of designer apparel for the Camuto Group, will collaborate with the Sanctuary team to expand the existing business and will report to Galvin. Most recently she was at Jones Apparel Group, where she worked on the Nine West brand as group president. Prior to that, she was a vice president at Calvin Klein.

The Camuto Group, based in Greenwich, Conn., first displayed its interest in contemporary fashion late last year when it purchased a majority stake in the Los Angeles-based Development Clothing LLC, an apparel brand designed by Erica Davies.

Camuto is best known for designing, developing and distributing women’s footwear, which is sold in more than 5,400 doors worldwide. In November, Camuto teamed with NexCen, a global brand acquisition firm, to acquire The Shoe Box Inc., a chain that sells high-end shoes such as Giuseppe Zanotti, Chloé and Jimmy Choo. The company also owns the Vince Camuto and Arturo Chiang brands, and is the master licensee for the Jessica Simpson Collection. In addition, Camuto develops and manages the Antonio Melani and Gianni Bini brands, and holds the footwear license for BCBGirls, BCBG Max Azria and Nicole Miller. It is also currently working on a line of footwear for Bill Blass.