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NEW YORK — High-profile musicians have stormed through the apparel business in recent years, but this month they’re wheeling and dealing as never before.

Savvy enough to know it takes more than their names to maintain a successful business, celebrities are lining up serious financial backing. Pharrell Williams is now on board with Reebok International, Russell Simmons’ Phat Fashions is said to be close to a deal with Kellwood, Damon Dash and Jay-Z are in talks to sell the majority share of Continued from page one

This story first appeared in the December 12, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Rocawear, Beyoncé Knowles is at work on a signature collection and Ashanti is eyeing one, too.

All this action follows similar ventures, like last month’s agreement for Liz Claiborne to acquire the fast-growing Enyce brand for $114 million from Fila. And in September, Sean Combs signed a deal with California billionaire Ron Burkle, managing partner of The Yucaipa Cos., a Los Angeles-based private equity firm. Burkle has invested about $100 million in the Sean John brand, which pulls in $325 million at retail. This summer, Kellwood signed licensing deals for Def Jam University and Run Athletics with Simmons, founder and chief executive of Phat Fashions Inc. and his brother, Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons.

“We are in final talks with a big public company, but if they were to back out I have others lined up to buy,” Simmons said of his deal in the works for the purchase of Phat Fashions, although he declined to name the firm. He said the sudden spurt of large companies looking to pick up urban labels is something he knew would happen — it was just a matter of time.

“These large public companies were so arrogant thinking our numbers were temporary,” he said. “Now they see that we have the staying power and they want a piece of it.”

While he said he doesn’t have a timeline for the sale of his brand, he did say he is confident that Phat Fashions will grow next year, no matter what happens.

“Phat Farm had a bad year three years ago and we still grew by 30 percent,” he said. “Now we are on a huge spurt and stores are begging for more merchandise. That shows that this customer is growing and maturing with our brand — he may be 28 years old by now and started wearing Phat Farm when he was 16…he’s still wearing Phat Farm.”

Reebok International said Thursday it has landed a long-term licensing deal with Pharrell Williams. He is half of the production team The Neptunes, a member of the band N.E.R.D, a solo artist and ceo of the Star Trak recording label. Williams is lending his flair to develop women’s and men’s Rbk footwear called Ice Cream and a men’s apparel collection called Billionaire’s Boys Club.When the line bows next summer, it will be available only in select high-end boutiques and better department stores worldwide.

“I’m excited to be combining my creativity and vision with Reebok,” said Williams in a statement. “I’ve always wanted to do more than music, and now I’ll be able to explore the world of fashion by designing my style of clothes and sneakers.”

He will join forces with Nigo, the designer behind the apparel brand A Bathing Ape, to produce the Billionaire’s Boys Club line.

Todd Krinsky, vice president of Rbk, said the new lines will give Reebok access to a cross section of consumers. That’s something athletic companies have been striving for more diligently in recent months, due partially to aging Baby Boomers and the ever-elusive teen market.

“Pharrell’s collections will fuse skate, hip-hop and alternative rock global youth cultures to reach a broader audience across all musical genres,” Krinsky said.

Rocawear, the $350 million clothing line founded by Damon Dash and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, is said to be in talks to sell the majority share of its business. TKO, a Miami-based private label company, is the front-runner to buy the stake.

Industry sources said brothers James and Kenny Tate are closing in on buying out Rocawear president Alex Bize and ceo Norton Cher. A deal could be reached in a matter of days, sources said.

The Tates and Damon Dash could not be reached for comment.

Their family’s business, Tate Development, is a well-established multimillion-dollar operation. Former President Clinton appointed their father, Stanley, to head the Resolution Trust Corp., which worked to resolve the savings and loan crisis of the late Eighties. The senior Tate owns several general contracting and manufacturing companies with offices in Florida, Colorado, Texas and New York.

Dash is expected to stay on with the company, as is Jay-Z. Like Dash, Jay-Z is said to be bound by contract and cannot exit Rocawear. Having put his own music career on ice indefinitely, Jay-Z has made it known he plans to pursue other ventures. Some industry executives said he plans to develop his own business under the Rocawear umbrella, and his girlfriend, Beyoncé Knowles, will have a major role in it.

For months, sources have been speculating how and when the 22-year-old Knowles will develop a signature line, joining the ranks of Jennifer Lopez, Eve, Gwen Stefani and Thalia. Known for her occasionally blinding fashion sense, Knowles was a front-row denizen at more than a few European and American fashion shows.

In October, she said she and her mother are set to launch two apparel collections by next year, possibly for summer. The collections would include a junior-oriented line with a hip-hop feel, as well as a more sophisticated range of dresses and separates.

“People my age love fashion and want to dress in designer clothes, but can’t afford it,” Beyoncé said backstage at the Versace show in October. “I want to do something that is affordable, but sophisticated and sexy and feminine — something I would wear.”

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