LF USA has added another license to its growing collection — Ellen Tracy.

This story first appeared in the June 17, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Since 2009, Brand Matter LLC, the owner of Ellen Tracy, has licensed RVC Enterprises to produce a women’s better sportswear line. Together they forged a strategic alliance with Macy’s Inc. as the exclusive department store retailer, which will continue. The transition of the license to LF USA is effective with the August shipments of the Ellen Tracy women’s better sportswear line.

Mark Mendelson, president of Ellen Tracy, has moved to LF USA, along with his entire design team. Susanne Klevorick remains creative director and senior vice president of design.

With the exclusive deal with Macy’s, which began in March, 2010, Ellen Tracy entered the better area after decades of being a leader in the bridge category.

LF USA has been licensed to produce and market Ellen Tracy better and bridge apparel, activewear and handbags. Next year, it plans to add small leather goods, belts and cold-weather accessories.

“This is going to be a big deal for the Ellen Tracy brand. LF USA will become a cornerstone partner for us,” said William Sweedler, co-founder of Tengram Capital Partners, whose investment is Brand Matter.

Rick Darling, president of LF USA, a division of Li & Fung, said that the firm will continue “to build out Ellen Tracy as an exclusive program for Macy’s.” He said the entire team is intact, “and over time, we’ll make changes.”

Ellen Tracy sportswear is currently available in 175 Macy’s doors. Darling said that Mendelson’s expertise with Macy’s, a distribution channel that LF USA is eager to build, as well as the better category, will be an asset to LF USA. Darling said he’s also interested in taking Ellen Tracy overseas, and expects it to launch in two European countries by fall 2012. They are also seeking partners in South America and plan to take the brand to Asia.

Jeff Gennette, Macy’s Inc.’s chief merchandising officer, noted the Ellen Tracy line has been performing well: “We’re always looking for improvement. It’s got good design direction, and we’re having a good run.

“The dresses have been really strong, as well as the classifications and blouses,” said Gennette. He said Mendelson and his team have successfully been able to tailor the assortments to various parts of the country, as part of the My Macy’s initiative.

As for the previous licensee, RVC, Platt observed, “The reality is RVC is an urban company and a juniors company, and they had the chance to do the Tommy Girl license [and took it].” He said they realized better sportswear wasn’t their expertise and they needed to stay focused on what they do best. Besides Tommy Girl, RVC’s businesses include Beverly Hills Polo Club, Rocawear, Coogi and Deréon. Ruby Azrak, chief executive officer of RVC, declined comment.

Ellen Tracy is among a growing list of exclusive brands at Macy’s, which includes Rachel Roy, Tommy Hilfiger, Material Girl (Madonna), Sean John, Martha Stewart and Donald Trump. At Macy’s, Ellen Tracy competes with brands such as Michael Michael Kors, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones New York, and Jones Signature.

LF USA’s expanding list of labels includes Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Rachel Zoe, and House of Deréon. LF USA also produces Sean John’s men’s sportswear exclusively for Macy’s. LF USA’s recent acquisitions also include Oxford Apparel Group, Cipriani Accessories and its affiliate, the Max Leather Group, and Jimlar Corp., which owns the Frye trademark and produces shoes for Coach and Calvin Klein. Earlier this week, it was reported that LF USA and Skechers USA Inc. signed a licensing deal to produce men’s and women’s apparel and accessories under the Shape-ups, Tone-ups and Sketchers Resistance brands.

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