Until its break-up in 2014, Jones Group was one of America's biggest apparel groups, managing a broad portfolio of upscale women's apparel, footwear and accessories brands, mostly positioned within what are termed the moderate and better apparel segments. Sales were split between department stores and the group's own branded retail chains. Key brands included Jones New York, Anne Klein, Rachel Roy and Stuart Weitzman apparel and Nine West, Kurt Geiger and Easy Spirit footwear and accessories.
Jones Apparel was originally established in 1970 as a division of retail conglomerate WG Grace, under the management of Sidney Kimmel. Five years later, Kimmel bought the business out, and set about establishing Jones New York as an independent label, offering a range of classic suits and sportswear aimed at professional women. At its peak, it was one of the top two or three moderate or better branded apparel lines sold through US department stores, worth around $1bn a year at retail. The business floated successfully in 1991, and Jones began diversifying its portfolio, acquiring the Evans-Picone business in 1993, the license for Lauren by Ralph Lauren in 1995, and Sun Apparel of Texas in 1998, whose brands included Ralph Lauren's Polo Jeans Company license.
In 1999, Jones launched Ralph by Ralph Lauren sportswear for women and also completed the acquisition of footwear designer and retailer Nine West, followed by costume jewellery manufacturers Victoria & Co and Judith Jack in 2000 and 2001. Other purchases included women's and kids' clothing designer McNaughton in 2001, the well-known Gloria Vanderbilt jeanswear line in 2002, and leading US designer label Anne Klein (where Donna Karan had first made her name in the fashion industry) in 2004.
However, at around the same time, Jones was involved in a series of legal skirmishes with Ralph Lauren in an attempt to prevent the designer not only from taking back the licenses for several lucrative lines produced by Jones, including Polo Jeans, but also poaching Jones's group president Jackie Nemerov. The case was eventually settled in early 2006, when Jones was obliged to surrender its claim on the licenses in return for compensation and damages.
Although Jones had traditionally distributed its brands wholesale to department store customers, it began to expand its own retail network from 2002 onwards. A key factor was the consolidation among America's numerous different department stores into what became in effect one single giant, Macy's. This led to intense pressure on margins as Jones and other suppliers were pushed to cut wholesale prices or be dropped. Partly as a result of this change in market, the group made the decision to buy its own department store, agreeing to acquire luxury fashion store Barneys in 2004, at a cost of around $400m. Founded in 1923 as a discount clothing store, it reinvented itself in the 1970s as a retailer of upscale designer fashion. But extravagant spending forced the company into bankruptcy protection in 1996. It re-emerged three years later as a more disciplined and streamlined "top people's" store. At the time of the deal, Barney's had more than 30 stores across the US, including flagship stores in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas. However the purchase was not a success. Positioned as a luxury store, specialising in the designer/bridge sector rather than the Jones heartland of better apparel, it was a step too far up-market. Barneys was put up for sale once more in 2007, and was acquired by a Dubai-based investment fund for $942m.
By this time, the group's fashion labels were also suffering flat or declining sales. Group's revenues peaked at over $4.6bn in 2004, but began a steady decline over the rest of the decade. A series of asset impairment charges resulted in a net loss of $765m in 2008. A long and difficult search beghan for a buyer. The group was eventually acquired by investment firm Sycamore Partners for around $1.2bn, and was split into six separate companies in Spring 2014. Stuart Weitzman was sold to Coach at the end of 2014; Jones New York was acquired by Authentic Brands Group; Kurt Geiger was acquired by investment fund Cinven in 2015. Most of the other brands - including Nine West, Anne Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt and lei - are still owned by Sycamore, reconsolidated as a single unit under the banner of Nine West Holdings. Sidney Kimmel stepped down as chairman at the time of the Sycamore deal, having already donated a large chunk of his shares in the company to Johns Hopkins University to fund the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Ceter.
Last full revision 6th October 2017
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