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CAA gets tangled up in blue, invests in J Brand jeans

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The future of fashion in the entertainment industry just came into a little clearer focus this morning, with the announcement that Star Avenue Capital has acquired a majority interest in downtown Los Angeles-based jeans maker J Brand.

You see, Star, which is based in Century City, is part of a partnership that includes New York-based private equity firm Irving Place Capital and Century City’s talent agency powerhouse Creative Artists Agency. (Founded in 2009, this is Star’s first deal.)

Does that mean we’re going to start seeing J Brand jeans adorning the backsides of CAA’s famous clientele (which includes Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and David Beckham) or popping up in affiliated film and TV projects (“Sisterhood of the Traveling Premium Pants,” perhaps?)? The answer is kind of.

“Sure, [CAA] will do all the logical product placement where it makes sense,” Star Avenue Capital’s managing director Mark Genender said in a phone interview earlier Thursday. “But the key thing is that premium denim responds well to media, and this is all about media activation; CAA has multiple ways” to do that.

“Media activation” is basically a euphemism for “building buzz,” and Genender gave as examples social media, generating original content and staging events as a way of pushing the brand out into popular culture. That last one, says J Brand’s co-founder and Chief Executive Jeff Rudes, is the biggest benefit to the premium denim label.

“We don’t have any shortage of celebrity clientele,” Rudes told me this morning. “For me, the real value of [the CAA relationship] is in marketing and events.”

Rudes used the example of an event he has planned for the upcoming London Fashion Week. “I can’t disclose what it is right now,” he said. “But it’s going to be fashion industry news, and we’ll be able to use CAA’s London office — and all the resources they have in place — to take this thing to another level.”

He said branding events have become increasingly important to companies, and that CAA’s existing marketing and branding infrastructure should give the label “exponential exposure” as it tries to grow in two key areas he identified as international expansion and growing the men’s side of the business.

But CAA, which helped launch the highly successful Vans Warped Tour that puts CAA’s music roster and the Southern California skate-shoe label in front of hundreds of thousands of teens nationwide each summer, isn’t the only partner bringing expertise to the deal, Genender pointed out.

“Irving Place Capital knows this space very well,” he said. “They were the financial backers behind Aeropostale,  they’ve been involved with 7 For All Mankind and New York & Company. So they bring some direct industry experience to the table. And one of their senior advisors — [former CEO of Jones Apparel Group] Peter Boneparth– is going to be the chairman of J Brand’s board.”

Genender and Rudes characterized J Brand’s 2009 sales as “well in excess of $50 million” and forecast that the label is expected to see 25% to 30% growth this year.

Rudes will remain in the CEO role moving forward. As for J Brand co-founder Susie Crippen, who had served as the brand’s creative director?

“She’s moved on to other new things,” Rudes told me. “She’s very talented, and I think she just has other things on her horizon now.”