NEW YORK — Sarah Rutson’s move from vice president of global buying at Net-a-porter.com to empire builder at Dutch LLC has her right on trend.
Despite, or maybe because of, all the changes in the market, the investment set senses continuing opportunity, particularly in beauty but also in fashion. And they’re linking with insiders to help them spend wisely.
Now, private equity firm TA Associates, which owns a majority stake in Dutch — which has been renamed The Collected Group — has Rutson on their side. As chief brand officer, she is charged with identifying potential acquisitions to help build the group’s portfolio beyond the contemporary labels Joie, Equipment and Current/Elliott. The Collected Group intends to assemble a broader offering across designer, beauty and lifestyle categories.
As she hits the market, Rutson might well bump up against other fashion experts taking their turns as investors.
• Eurazeo tapped Jill Granoff this year to lead Eurazeo Brands, which has a mandate to invest up to $800 million over five years on U.S. and European brands with global potential.
• Fashion factor Gary Wassner formed InterLuxe with Lee Equity in 2014 and has invested in Jason Wu, ALC and Mackage.
• Glen Senk, former Urban Outfitters Inc. chief executive officer, linked with Berkshire Partners to create Front Row Partners in 2014 and took a stake in Opening Ceremony.
Having a portfolio of brands can give a company more growth opportunities and a chance to save on costs, but complexity also increases as groups grow larger.
“Having a brand portfolio makes a lot of sense,” said Janki Lalani Gandhi, managing director at Lincoln International, who earlier in her career helped Dutch founder Serge Azria bring in TA.
She said having a number of brands under one umbrella was part of what made Dutch appealing to private equity. “They were able to leverage their sourcing relationships where it made sense and other corporate efficiencies,” Gandhi said.
However, portfolios need to be put together carefully and they do bring some risk for management teams.
“If you end up with a brand that’s not complementary, then one-plus-one doesn’t equal four, it equals less than two because they got distracted and you take your eye off the ball,” Gandhi said.
Risks aside, the portfolio is definitely in vogue.
This week, Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. agreed to acquire Jimmy Choo for $1.35 billion. And Coach Inc. this month absorbed Kate Spade into its burgeoning portfolio.
The Collected Group is pushing to become a market leader in “exceptional, highly relevant products” for a discerning global consumer base.
“My job is to build brands and to re-brand,” Rutson said in an exclusive interview. “I’m also very excited about moving into the beauty area as well.”
She touted broader international potential for the group’s trio of contemporary names and an opportunity to build a “diverse, interesting and nuanced portfolio” for The Collected Group.
While declining to identify potential targets, timelines for the first transaction or the size of the checkbook at her disposal, she suggested she already had oodles of prospects, having mentored scores of designers and built businesses for countless brands over a career spanning some 20 years.
A British national, Rutson joined Net-a-porter.com from Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, where she was its longtime fashion director.
“It’s about relationships, and striking a deal that is a win-win for both parties,” she explained. “Not every brand in the world is about hitting $1 billion anymore…some will be new upstarts.”
Rutson is to join The Collected Group’s executive team and help develop and drive its growth.
Last month, what was then Dutch LLC recruited James Miller from Polo Ralph Lauren to become the new ceo of the Vernon, Calif.-based company. Miller succeeded Jack Schwefel, who was expected to remain on the board.
The assemblage of contemporary brands put together by Azria is perhaps best described as the melding of Parisian chic and Southern California casual cool. It counts 33 stores with the most recent a new Current/Elliott unit on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.
Previously president of retail at Polo, Miller served as a consultant to Dutch for about five months before officially joining as president in March. Miller held a number of executive positions at Ted Baker.
“The spirit Sarah brings to the organization will lead the team forward by championing uniqueness and innovation to shape the future of the company,” he said.
A bottom-line type with a strong creative bent, Rutson was able to drive sales of legacy brands during her two-year stint at Net-a-porter, while nurturing newer businesses such as J.W. Anderson, Vetements, Off-White and Altuzarra.
Finding labels that offer luxury at a great price point has been another recent focus for Rutson, who launched about 90 labels for spring 2017 retailing on Net-a-porter, many in the contemporary space.
“When you’re buying for a global market, you really understand what it takes to build a brand,” she said, noting that she thrives on coaching vendors and designers on understanding their DNA, their customer base and building out their product architecture.
One of the most photographed retail executives, who counts 65,000 followers on Instagram, Rutson said she plans to continue attending international fashion weeks to scout new talents and keep a pulse on the market. “I live for new discoveries and I live for the challenge to build something,” she said.
TA bought a majority stake in Dutch from Azria in 2013 in a transaction that valued the company at more than $500 million.
Created in 2001, Joie is known for its silk tops, but also sells shoes, handbags, outerwear and other categories.
Stylists Emily Current and Meritt Elliott started Current/Elliott with Azria in 2008. The brand’s jeans feature faded washes and boyfriend styles and are a favorite of the Hollywood set.
Azria relaunched Equipment in 2010, expanding a brand originally known for silk shirts into pajama sets, shirtdresses, silk T-shirts, cashmere and the men’s market. Founded in 1968 and headquartered in Boston, TA Associates holds investments across business services, consumer products, financial, health care and technology. Its fashion holdings include Zadig & Voltaire, accessories firm Cath Kidston, salon brand Marc Anthony and skin care specialist Paula’s Choice.
According to its web site, TA has done more than 120 deals over the last five years and led more than $22 billion in capital markets transactions since 2013 to finance acquisitions.