Nine West, Kurt Geiger Team Up

NEW YORK — Nine West Footwear Corp. is forging an international partnership with Kurt Geiger Ltd. in two key markets, and the new deal could set the stage for further collaborations between the footwear powerhouses.

The companies will announce today they are entering into a seven-year pact in the U.K. and Ireland, where Kurt Geiger will license and distribute the Nine West and Easy Spirit brands, starting with spring ’10. Financial terms of the agreement, which includes an option for renewal, are not being disclosed.

Nine West CEO Andrew Cohen told Footwear News he is bullish about the venture, citing Kurt Geiger’s retail prowess and brand management expertise. “It’s the preeminent footwear company in the U.K.,” Cohen said during a joint interview with the British firm’s CEO, Neil Clifford, at Nine West’s showroom here.

Cohen added that international growth is a priority for the company going forward. “We think overseas is a more strategic opportunity [than the U.S.] … and we’ve created a real global feeling with the brand,” Cohen said, adding that the company will now have more control over its brand positioning overseas.

Nine West, a division of Jones Apparel Group, recently ended its previous licensing deal with British retailer Shoe Studio Group, which changed ownership earlier this year when Mosaic Fashions sold the company to Dune, another U.K. retailer.

The shakeup at Shoe Studio — and across the broader U.K. market — sparked Clifford’s interest in Nine West. “Nine West fits beautifully into our hierarchy,” he said, noting that the brand’s fashion-forward sensibility at a competitive price would mesh well with the company’s other brands, which are mostly higher end.

“Both organizations are very product-driven, so there is a lot of symmetry there,” Cohen said.

Kurt Geiger plans to build a dedicated Nine West team in its London headquarters to oversee the two brands. And the duo said all the principle elements of the lines will be incorporated into Kurt Geiger’s mix.

“The core needs to be the core. We don’t want to be creating Nine West,“ Clifford said, noting that he was immediately impressed by Nine West creative director Fred Allard’s focus on edgy, innovative designs.

Kurt Geiger will sell the brands through its expansive retail network, both in the U.K. and Ireland. The firm already operates shoe departments in Harrods, Selfridges, Fenwicks and House of Fraser, among others. Nine West is currently sold in about 200 concessions across the U.K. and Ireland.

Fourteen freestanding Nine West stores, operated by Shoe Studio Group, have been closed, but Kurt Geiger is already scouting new locations for flagship units and plans to debut the first concept store next spring.

The execs insisted that the rocky economy will not slow their plans to bow new locations. “Now is an easier time to open stores,” Cohen said. “It’s easier to negotiate the leases.”

Looking ahead, Nine West, which is in 65 countries, and Kurt Geiger, which operates in France, Italy and the Middle East, are leaving the door open for additional partnerships. “We believe there will be multiple opportunities in due time,” Cohen said.

Added Clifford: “This is just a starting point.”

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