Monday, May 7, 2007

Narciso Rodriguez and Liz Claiborne Inc. announced that they have agreed to enter into a multi-faceted partnership agreement. The $4.99 billion apparel giant is acquiring a 50 percent ownership interest in the Narciso Rodriguez name and trademarks from Rodriguez and will form a new company to develop the Narciso Rodriguez brand worldwide with Rodriguez as creative director.
"Narciso Rodriguez is one of the finest American designers today and we are thrilled to enter into a partnership with this extremely talented individual and his much heralded brand,” said William L. McComb, chief executive officer of Liz Claiborne Inc., said in a statement. “Narciso's strong following and high recognition level position his business well for considerable organic growth.”

Rodriguez said in a statement, "I am excited about the opportunities that this partnership will offer. Collaborating with Liz Claiborne will enable me to focus on my work and all of its possibilities. Bill McComb and his team have a clear understanding of my vision and are committed to help me realize my dream."

This is the first significant apparel deal for under McComb’s reign at Liz Claiborne, which currently counts Juicy Couture, Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman, Sigrid Olsen, and Kate Spade in its portfolio of brands.

The Cuban-American designer is known for his women's and men's ready-to-wear collections (the latter of which was established in 2005), whose hallmarks include clean lines and precision tailoring. The Cuban-born designer and graduate of Parsons School of Design was the first recipient of two consecutive CFDA women’s wear design awards in 2002 and 2003 following the establishment of his eponymous brand in 1997.

What has also been clear in recent months is the deteriorating relationship between Rodriguez and Aeffe SpA, the Italian company that owns half of the operating company controlling his business. It remains unclear what this deal with Liz Claiborne Inc. means for his business agreement with Aeffe, who expressly made no mention of the designer in reports of its earnings last month.

After studying at Parsons, Rodriguez started his career at Anne Klein, where he worked under Donna Karan, followed by stints at Calvin Klein, Cerruti, and Loewe. Rodriguez, whose collections are carried at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and key specialty stores worldwide and has an award-winning line of fragrances distributed worldwide under an existing license agreement with Beauté Prestige International, counts the likes of Salma Hayek, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rachel Weisz, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Jessica Seinfeld among his loyal devotees. He became a household name in 1996 when Carolyn Bessette Kennedy wore his bias-cut gown at her wedding to John F. Kennedy Jr.

Despite all of Rodriguez’s achievements, the designer has also met with hurdles. Giorgio Armani chief operating officer Roberto Pesaro, who came on board as president and CEO last year, resigned less than 10 months later. The Narciso Rodriguez flagship in Milan also shut its doors around February.

“This is a totally different kind of deal than those we have done in the past,” continued McComb in a statement. “Unlike acquisitions of fully scaled businesses, here we are affiliating with one of the world's finest designers to organically build a broad business in a growing and profitable category that we do not currently operate in—the luxury designer segment—that is sold in productive and partnership-oriented upscale retailers. The chance to work with Narciso to significantly grow his business while retaining his unique vision of timeless elegance was right in line with our commitment to outstanding designers and design excellence. We were compelled to seize on this opportunity now."

ElixirAdvisors represented Rodriguez in the Claiborne deal.


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