Why Liberty's Menswear Licensing Deal with Slowear Can't Come a Minute Too Soon

Last Updated May 13, 2010 3:54 PM EDT

Simon Doonan wears Liberty printsThe licensing deal pairing Liberty of London with Italian manufacturer Slowear Group is turning heads in fashion and business, partly because it's the first in Liberty's 100+ year history. But don't discount the buzz surrounding the planned 200-piece menswear collection. It's an embarrassment of riches for Liberty, and everyone who loves it -- not just the guys.

For Liberty, it's a strategic partnership that offers the iconic brand more than just the irresistible allure of fine Italian tailoring. Liberty's CEO Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye said Slowear brings scale, expertise, and a track record to design, manufacture, and distribute men's fashion globally. It's an excellent step towards de la Bourdonnaye's goal of making the company attractive to buyers both large and small -- especially for BlueGem Capital Partners LLP, which recently approached Liberty with a potential offer.

However, the Slowear licensing deal is also compatible with majority owner MWB Group Holdings' concerted effort over the last two years to spiff up the tired old florals and reposition Liberty as a global luxury brand, most notably in the retail arena.

It certainly doesn't hurt that Liberty's recent turn in the aisles at Target (TGT) surpassed everyone's expectations (including Target's buyers who didn't count on the feeding frenzy Liberty goods sparked across the country). Sprightly Liberty prints showing up in several departments including home and garden, children's and -- you guessed it -- men's, pushed the retailer's comps for March/April to a 3 percent increase.

Beyond this, it shows that Liberty's management team is staying just ahead of the fashion curve by catering to men looking for more than khakis and oxford shirts. Rumblings have been felt at J. Crew (JCG) which recently beefed up its premium men's offerings with a spotlight on partnerships with luxury brands. Coach (COH) just jumped on the gent's bandwagon too, debuting a men's-only boutique this month. And having a dyed-in-the-cotton devotee like Simon Doonan (Barney's creative director, pictured above) is as good as a celebrity endorsement (he of the Liberty kimono-as-desert island staple fame.)

Liberty/Slowear's collection is set to premiere in Milan in June and go on sale in spring 2011. Let's hope that if any company steps in to buy an interest in Liberty during this time, it will allow this deal to flourish.

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