NEW YORK, United States – In recent days, NexCen has experienced a meltdown unlike anything the fashion world has seen, leaving Bill Blass, its star brand, in play as vulture investors circle to assess what value remains. NexCen’s failure to disclose a $30m debt that must be paid back by October has sent its stock reeling and could very likely result in the company going bankrupt. Its CEO Robert D’Loren’s job is at stake and the company’s investors and other stakeholders are furious.
The dramatic turn of events underlines the fact that even culturally important brands like Bill Blass can suffer collateral damage in the new era that has brought fashion and finance together.
In February, Lauren Goldstein Crowe investigated NexCen’s business model in the FT. Having spent several days with D’Loren and his team, Lauren saw the inner workings of the company, its team dynamic and business model. I asked Lauren if she would answer a few questions about what might lie behind the dramatic headlines and what could be in store for NexCen in the weeks to come.
BoF: Based on your insider view of NexCen and having spent a significant of time with D’Loren, did you have any inkling of the impending implosion?
LGC: I’m absolutely stunned that the company’s undoing has turned out to be a financial oversight. I was intrigued by the notion of having a group that hedged the apparel business against other sectors, like food. My main concerns about NexCen were A: Does D’Loren understand how to manage brands and B: with Blass, will he give enough creative control to the designers.
He was a finance guy — he made his name figuring out how to secure debt against intellectual property. I am baffled as to why he’d take a loan that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make the payments on. And to not disclose it? Again, bizarre.
The company did seem to have problems learning how to communicate with analysts. Was it arrogance? I don’t know. He struck me as very financially astute — and others I spoke to agreed. I’m eager to hear more about how that happened and in particular what role he and the CFO had it in.
BoF: What is your understanding of what went wrong?
LGC: Nexcen was in acquisition mode when the credit crisis hit. This affected their share price and meant that they had to use more debt than equity in making deals. D’Loren had told me that he thought the crisis would be over by March once the bad news had been absorbed. He must have thought that he’d be able to make the $30 million payment for the Great American Cookie Co by October when he did the deal in January, but the stock has been in steady decline. It now appears he can’t make the payment without selling assets.
BoF: What would you do now if you were D’Loren? Sell Blass? Sell something else?
LGC: I don’t know. His apparel deals all included stock for the partners (like Groveman at Blass) and I’m sure they’re livid. Personally, I’d hide. Maybe go to Mexico or something. But it looks like he’s selling Blass and Waverly. I guess they’re the easiest to dispose of but it is not certain he’ll be able to raise the full $30 million that way.
BoF: Is there someone credible you met who could take over from him if D’Loren gets fired/leaves?
LGC: At NexCen I only met him and the Head of Marketing. I suspect they’ll have to go outside for a new CEO as credibility is now a problem for the whole team.