The Jones Report: Inside the Reinvention

The company is working hard to transform with a fresh focus on shoes.

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Kate Moss in an ad for Stuart Weitzman

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Brian Atwood for fall 2013

Photo By Courtesy Photo

The label also is attracting a more diverse audience through attention-grabbing collaborations, such as its recent linkup with high-end retailer Kirna Zabête.

“The mission of these partnerships is to infuse cultural relevance into the Nine West brand and keep it top of mind [with fashion insiders],” Dickson said. “Kirna Zabête has been a sellout on our websites, and we’ve had great press coverage.”

For her part, Kirna Zabête co-owner Sarah Easley said the opportunity to partner with Nine West had come at just the right time, since she and her business partner, Beth Buccini, had just completed a collaboration with Target.

“We whet our design appetite with Target. ... Footwear is a category where women can take risks and push the envelope,” Easley said. “Working with Nine West was fantastic because there weren’t any rules. They let us do shoes with crazy ostrich feathers for February and a waterproof collection for April.”

After the six-month collaboration with Kirna Zabête concludes, the brand is planning a partnership with Decades owner Cameron Silver, whose reality show recently debuted on Bravo. (Details of the partnership are still being finalized.)

While overhauling Nine West has been a major focus, Jones also has been working to unlock new opportunity at Easy Spirit.

Over the last several quarters, the brand has rolled out a concept called e360 to highlight the comfort technology in the line and has added more colorful styles to diversify the shoes. “The excitement about sneakers and the active world is benefiting the brand,” Greenfield said.

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There’s no question that Jones generated a huge amount of buzz with its high-profile acquisitions over the past few years. Now the company is focused on turning Stuart Weitzman, Brian Atwood and Kurt Geiger into much larger, more global businesses.

“We’ve been spending a lot of our time nurturing and investing in the new portfolio,” said Dickson, adding that the Rachel Roy and Robert Rodriguez brands are also priorities for the team. “We’re becoming a place that is known for our talent and we believe we have found the names that will be the next generation of big brands at the company.”

The most established and biggest success story for the company to date, is Stuart Weitzman, which has been enjoying strong momentum during the past few years. Revenues were $251 million in 2012, up from $235 million a year earlier. “There’s so much opportunity here,” said Black. “I believe Stuart Weitzman can be a billion-dollar brand.”

Jones, which acquired a majority of Weitzman in 2010, bought the remaining stake, as planned, at the end of last year. By all accounts, the team is bullish about the opportunities ahead.

“The business is on fire, particularly in his own stores,” Dickson said, adding that development of the handbag and jewelry business will be important going forward, as well as retail growth. A new flagship in Milan designed by famed architect Zaha Hadid will open later this year, and the brand sees potential for store expansion in Asia, in particular.

As part of its push into new markets, the brand has upped its fashion cred with bolder advertising. This spring, Weitzman has made headlines for its provocative Kate Moss ads, which followed last fall’s campaign with Natalia Vodianova. “That was really the beginning of a new approach to exposure for us,” said Weitzman, who was responsible for introducing Greenfield to the Jones team a few years ago.

The designer, who has an unwavering passion for his work and is fiercely independent, said the union with Jones has been successful because the company respects the expertise of Weitzman and his team, led by Kulkin as vice chairman and Duffy as chief marketing officer.

“I suppose if I had joined a [fashion conglomerate], they would have thought they could do it better than all of us,” Weitzman said. “[With Jones], we haven’t had an argument in three years. You couldn’t ask for nicer people to do business with, and it all starts at the top.”

As Jones works to accelerate the growth of Stuart Weitzman, it is also fueling its newest star player, Brian Atwood. “If there’s any brand to watch, it’s Brian,” Greenfield said, noting that Atwood himself is the most important part of the equation. “He’s an artist, he’s a businessman and he’s an unbelievably diligent worker.”

The designer opened his first flagship on Madison Avenue last year and is eyeing additional retail locations globally. “We’re getting great response from customers who know Brian,” Dickson said, “and as we get more practice with having a store, it will become more and more important.” Additionally, e-commerce has been a key growth driver for the brand, which also has targeted the contemporary market with the B Brian Atwood collection.

“We’re all learning what works and what doesn’t,” said Atwood, who tirelessly promotes his line through social media. “Sometimes building a designer label takes longer than some people expect, but I want to have a brand that’s going to be around for 100 years.”

Jones is working to connect the brand to a bigger audience through envelope-pushing ad campaigns, such as the current one with Eva Herzigova. As far as category expansion, Greenfield hinted that a men’s line could be on the horizon. The designer will unveil his bridal collection next week.

Kurt Geiger is also at the top of the agenda. The London-based company, acquired by Jones in 2011, already has given its parent a much bigger presence in Europe through its wholesale and retail channels. Now Kurt Geiger has its sights set on the U.S. market through a new wholesale deal with Nordstrom Inc. and an ambitious strategy to hit $100 million in the U.S. market in the next three years.

“It’s a really identifiable and spirited fashion brand at a great price point,” Dickson said. “We know there’s a demand for the brand outside Europe and bringing it to the U.S. marks an exciting new chapter for the company.”

Moving forward, Jones plans to pursue more acquisitions, and Dickson is charged up about the future. “There’s a new energy here and a belief in our vision,” he said. “We’re headed to a very different place than the place we were in before.”

[Note: This story has been updated since publication to include news of the recent investment by Barington Capital.]

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