Two Giants Cut a Deal

NEW YORK — Nine West and New Balance are hoping that when it comes to targeting today’s fashion-loving, athletic-minded customer, two heads are better than one.

In an out-of-the-box partnership expected to be revealed today, the companies are joining forces for the launch of a cobranded line of women’s fashion lifestyle and casual shoes called New Balance for Nine West. Under the terms of the deal — for which, execs said, no money changed hands — both brands will be allowed to use each other’s name and manufacture product on each other’s behalf.

“Both parties bring strong positions, and whenever you get to put the creative forces of two companies together, you get a pleasantly fresh perspective,” said New Balance CEO Rob DeMartini.

“This is two companies being progressive, and progressive companies take a little risk,” said Rick Paterno, president of Nine West’s wholesale better footwear division. “There’s never been a collaboration like this.”

Execs for both New York-based Nine West and Boston-based New Balance said they were optimistic the collaboration would help them reach an entirely new customer.

“We’re a New England athletic performance company, and if lifestyle is going to be a core category for us, we need to partner with the right company. Nine West is that right partner,” said Joe Casagrande, GM of New Balance’s lifestyle business unit, speaking last Tuesday at the New York offices of frequent New Balance collaborator DDC Labs.

Nine West said the collection gives the consumer more performance options.

“It’s for a woman who wants to have some fashion with her technology,” said Andy Cohen, Nine West CEO of footwear, accessories and retail. “I don’t think we have had that in the market for her.” 

During the first season, the $79-and-up styles will be carried at the top 50 Nine West locations, as well as in select New Balance stores and a limited number of boutique accounts, yet to be finalized. The collection will also be available on Ninewest.com, where a microsite will be devoted to the collaboration. Globally, the product will be available through Nine West stores and concessions, as well as through certain New Balance doors.

The execs were mum about plans for a broader distribution strategy going forward, but Wesley Card, president and CEO of Jones Apparel Group, parent company of Nine West, said that even though the partnership is starting small, it has the potential to be something big. “[It’s an opportunity] for us to maximize the value of the brand,” he said.

The Nine West design team, headed by creative director Fred Allard, has been working closely with Savania Davies-Keiller and Roberto Crivello, principals of DDC and New Balance creative directors, for the past six months to bring the collection to life. Davies-Keiller and Crivello have previously worked on the PF Flyers line, as well as on New Balance’s NB Inside fashion collection, which has since been shelved.

While the exact number of SKUs that will comprise the inaugural spring ’09 collection has yet to be finalized (the target is near 20), the lineup currently includes sneaker looks — many built on existing New Balance platforms, including the 410 running style — slip-ons, ballet flats and sandals.

All the shoes were built, Allard said, to emphasize a feeling of lightness and femininity. Materials include transparent shells, T-shirt-inspired jersey and premium leathers. In keeping with the styles’ athletic DNA, a premium was placed on breathability and comfort, with New Balance’s proprietary Abzorb cushioning and memory foam materials used in several styles.

According to Davies-Keiller, the two companies had a very similar vision for feminine shoes that used color and texture and also played with transparency and a feeling of airiness. “There was a very easy flow,” she said, “an easy synergy.”

Paterno said Nine West will handle the sales and distribution of the project, but that New Balance has right of approval for all accounts.

“No account will be opened where we do not have mutual agreement,”  Paterno said.


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