Byline: Kim-Van Dang

LOS ANGELES — Kellwood Co. moves into the bridge-price contemporary sportswear arena with its acquisition of fast-rising David Dart Inc. and its parent company, Force One.
The announcement of the deal confirmed a report printed here Wednesday that the Dart firm was being sold to a publicly owned company.
St. Louis-based Kellwood, which has built its business primarily on moderate-to-better apparel, rang up sales of $1.2 billion and net earnings of $35.6 million in the year ended April 30.
Thirty-one-year-old David Dart remains as president and design director of his namesake operation, which will be a division of Melrose, Kellwood’s moderate sportswear company based in Chatsworth, Calif. Dart will report to Richard L. Hirsh, chief executive officer of Melrose, and move his company’s operations from its 25,000-square-foot headquarters in Vernon, Calif., to Chatsworth within three to six months. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Dart’s design and merchandising staff will be in a 35,000-square-foot building next door to Melrose’s 170,000-square-foot complex.
Dart, who began designing on his own in 1985 and started Force One two years later, has posted hefty sales increases of late — jumping from $9 million in 1992 to $15 million in 1993 and $44 million this year. Dart said the new divisions should increase gross sales by $20 million for 1995.
“Our goal, when we started seven years ago, was to join a large reputable company,” he said. “Our company is strong, and Kellwood will make it even stronger. But that doesn’t mean that we will do anything different. We have a vision and we’re sticking by it.”
Hitting in the lower range of bridge prices, Dart’s signature line, consisting of softly structured separates and dresses in silky rayon and laundered linen wholesaling at $30 to $70, won the California Designer of the Year Award and the Dallas Fashion Award for contemporary sportswear this year. In addition, Dart just shipped the first David Dart Sport group, featuring Tencel denim sportswear at $20 to $60 wholesale. Another new label, David Dart Knitwear at $20 to $47 wholesale, will hit stores in March 1995.
Hirsh said Dart will be sharing Melrose’s state-of-the-art distribution and piece goods facilities. In addition, the designer will have access to Melrose’s computerized marking, grading and costing systems, its computer-assisted design system and its financial network. Melrose produces updated career looks under three brands: Melrose, Melrose Knits and Melrose Options. It also produces private label.
Dart will maintain his current sales force; corporate showrooms in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta, and freestanding David Dart Emporium stores in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. He said he is looking to open two more emporiums next year in Sunbelt cities.Hirsh stressed that Dart will have full control of his product line.
“Although he operates on a [better-price] level in terms of account base, fabrics and trims, our sourcing programs set up in the Far East and Central America should be of great use to him,” Hirsh said.
While William J. McKenna, Kellwood chairman and chief executive officer, made a point of noting in a statement that the Dart buy is Kellwood’s “first entree into the contemporary bridge sportswear arena.”
Kellwood officials refused to comment about any future forays into this market. They did note that firm has been aggressively seeking apparel acquisitions since 1986. Dart is its third acquisition this year. In September, it acquired Halmode Apparel, New York, a multidivisional women’s wear company dealing primarily with the moderate and mass markets and ringing up annual sales in excess of $150 million.

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