After recently relaunching as an online brand, The Limited is now an exclusive apparel line to Belk department stores, Belk announced on Tuesday. The partnership follows the $26.8 million acquisition of The Limited's intellectual property by private equity firm Sycamore Partners in a February bankruptcy auction. Belk itself was acquired by Sycamore two years ago.
The Limited is being managed as an "exclusive, private brand," similar to Belk lines Crown & Ivy, Kaari Blue, New Directions and True Craft, Belk said. The brand is being sold through The Limited’s site as well as at Belk.com and in 150 Belk stores, with 74 more Belk stores getting the merchandise next year, according to a Belk press release.
With its relaunch, The Limited has also for the first time begun selling expanded sizes. Plus sizes are available now, and Belk will be introducing designs in petite, tall and denim.
Founded in 1963 by current L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner, The Limited filed for bankruptcy in January this year after shuttering all 250 stores shortly following the 2016 holidays. But its weak performance in recent years belies its history as a style destination.
By the 1980s, The Limited was helping define casual fashion, enabled by teams that sought out eye-catching styles from boutiques worldwide and knocked them out via a super-speedy supply chain that pre-dated fast fashion. But a pivot in the 1990s to appeal to older women in need of workwear, allowing new sibling Limited Express to cater to younger ones, sapped the brand of much of its energy, according to Lee Peterson, who spent 11 years at The Limited and is now an executive vice president with retail design firm WD Partners.
However, Belk sees potential in The Limited’s appeal as a workplace fashion label. Nadine Rauer, Belk executive vice president and general merchandise manager, said in a release that the brand's clothing can "seamlessly carry the modern woman from work to her social life." She added that Belk intends to expand The Limited's assortment to take the brand "to the next level."
The Limited, despite its fall from a top perch in mass market fashion, has held on to enough meaningful cachet to attract $27 million in brand equity and now a deal for Belk. But taking its place in a department store line of private labels effectively shuts the door on its more fashionable past, Peterson suggests. "So, from ‘Milan — Paris — London’ on the windows to ‘now featured in Belk’ ... I’d say that’s about as far downstream as any brand could travel in a mere decade," he said in an email to Retail Dive.
Unlike many of its peers, Belk — a regional department store located mostly in the South that until its 2015 sale was a family-owned business — is expanding its footprint and updating existing stores. Meanwhile, others in the sector such as Macy's, J.C. Penney and Sears are closing stores.