How Fashion, Lifestyle Megafirm Authentic Brands Is Conquering Shoes

At the 2018 FN Achievement Awards on Dec. 4, Authentic Brands will be honored with the Company of the Year Award (watch the livestream here). Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 3 print issue about how the the firm became one of the industry’s biggest players.

From entertainment legends to iconic fashion labels, management megafirm Authentic Brands Group has always had its hands in a lot of pots. But 2018 was undoubtedly the year it staked its claim as a footwear powerhouse

Fresh off its 2017 acquisition of Frye, ABG — the brainchild of entrepreneur and licensing veteran Jamie Salter — headed deeper into the shoe business when it snapped up the Nautica brand from VF Corp. in March. From there, Salter and his right-hand man, president and chief marketing officer Nick Woodhouse, accelerated their deal-making by procuring two of the footwear industry’s most storied names: Nine West and Camuto Group. (Nine West and Bandolino were purchased out of bankruptcy as a pair in June; ABG secured Camuto in October.)

“A couple years ago, we made a goal that we wanted to be very large in the shoe business — fashion footwear [in particular],” Salter said. “By doing what we did — buying Nine West, Bandolino, Vince Camuto and Frye — it made a spot in that business where we’re important to the customer. The world is getting smaller, and every deal was strategic.”

Nine West
A Nine West store.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Woodhouse, who previously helped build Canadian sporting goods chain Forzani Group Ltd., said: “The brands ABG has partnered with and purchased are venerable legacy brands that withstand the test of time. Frye, Vince Camuto and Nine West are brands we’d had our sights set on for a while. People always ask us what we’re doing about the internet and digital retailing, and we say: ‘30 years from now, we’re pretty sure people will still be buying shoes.’ It’s just a matter of what [the shoes] are going to look like and where and how they’re going to get them. If we can be ahead of that curve, footwear is a safe business to be in.”

Still, Woodhouse and Salter aren’t assuming that next-gen consumers will
 buy just any shoes. For
 that reason, ABG — which owns and manages 50-plus brands, and licenses them to specialized companies — has been fastidious about the firms it taps for partnerships.

For Nine West, ABG orchestrated a full-circle moment, placing the brand’s footwear license in the hands of Marc Fisher, the son of Nine West co-founder Jerome Fisher.

Susan Itzkowitz, president of Marc Fisher Footwear, said: “ABG is a team of forward-thinking, supportive and collaborative people. They deliver innovative content and strategies, and provide consistency for their licensees in their brand messaging and marketing.”

For its buyout of Camuto Group in October, ABG made a nearly unprecedented move by teaming with DSW Inc. on the $375 million deal. Under the terms of the agreement, the pair jointly acquired the intellectual property of Camuto Group’s brands, including Vince Camuto, Louise et Cie, Sole Society and Enzo Angiolini. ABG took the majority stake of 60 percent, while DSW acquired the remainder.

“We’re very excited to partner with ABG to realize opportunities with Camuto’s third-party licensing and international distribution business, as well as build our strategic partnership across ABG’s existing [portfolio] and potential new brands,” Simon Nankervis, DSW chief commercial officer, said when the deal was announced.

Looking ahead, Woodhouse and Salter said they are mulling a range of expansion and development goals for the new businesses. But first they will steady the waters for both companies. (Nine West’s future had been precarious before its parent firm entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April. Camuto, meanwhile, shouldered the death of founder Vince Camuto in 2015, followed by a failed buyout by Aldo Group last year.)

“On the Camuto side, we want to grow handbags and the accessories collection,” said Salter. “International expansion will [also] be important, and that will come out of the gate incredibly fast with China, the Middle East, Western Europe and South America.”

For Nine West, Salter said he expects the Marc Fisher team to create “great [footwear] that services what the market needs [without] overdistribution.”

Additionally, Woodhouse sees paths for Nine West to enter new arenas. “It is a lifestyle brand that has category potential in home and fragrance, and other [areas] that may have been nascent in the past,” he said.

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