Com­pany of the Year

In record time, the New York-based firm has grown from a small startup to a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar fash­ion, footwear and lifestyle force.


Au­then­tic Brands Group

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.” 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 full­cir­cle 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 for­ward­think­ing, 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 third­party 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 also 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.


Nick Wood­house (L) and Jamie Sal­ter in the firm’s NY of­fices

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