J. Crew (finally) unloads Clifford & Wills

Nineteen months after announcing it would try to sell its $74 million Clifford & Wills (CW) women’s apparel catalog, $600 million J. Crew finally landed a buyer – Spiegel. On Dec. 21, the Spiegel Catalog division of Downers Grove, IL-based Spiegel Inc. agreed to buy the intellectual property of CW, which includes the catalog name, the house file, the logos, the trademarks, and the Website URL. The purchase price wasn’t revealed.

“We’ll be able to use Spiegel’s existing resources, such as fulfillment, to leverage the existing Clifford & Wills brand,” says Spiegel spokeswoman Debbie Koopman. It was unclear at press time when the deal would be completed, but Spiegel planned to resume mailing the CW book in March. The most recent CW edition dropped in November. Sources say CW was fully merchandised for 1999, and the last book liquidated the remaining products.

Nearly a year after it announced in May 1998 that it would try to sell CW, New York-based J. Crew had said it would phase out the book during ’99. According to earlier statements, Crew was selling CW so that it could focus on growing its core brand. For the first quarter of fiscal ’98 (the latest figures available from the privately held Crew), CW lost $1.4 million.

“CW has been mailing, so it probably still has a good, responsive customer base going,” points out consultant Glenda Shasho Jones, president of New York-based Shasho Jones Direct, who once worked on the catalog for J. Crew. CW’s women’s careerwear and casual apparel is similar to the women’s fashions sold by Spiegel in its core general merchandise book and specialty titles. But whereas Spiegel targets women in their late 30s, the average age of CW’s 761,852 24-month buyers is 46.

Though Spiegel wouldn’t comment on its mailing plans for CW, Kevin Silverman, senior vice president for Chicago-based global investment bank ABN AMRO, figures it’s safe to assume that Spiegel will “mail CW catalogs to Spiegel customers, and mail Spiegel catalogs to CW customers. And this will clearly give CW a much bigger audience than it has had, while Spiegel might find some new customers in a part of the market where it hadn’t been as prominent.”

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