WHP, Simon, Brookfield Unite Under Phoenix Retail Banner to Acquire Express

Logo for new Phoenix Retail joint venture between WHP, Simon, Brookfield and Centennial.

The new joint venture between brand management firm WHP Global and mall owners Simon Property GroupBrookfield Properties and Centennial Real Estate — formed for the purpose of buying beleaguered mall brand Express, Inc. — now has a name: Phoenix Retail.

The partners came together in April 2024 with a buyout offer for the fashion retailer — which includes the ExpressBonobos and UpWest brands — following Express’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Phoenix received court approval to buy Express on June 14, 2024, less than two months after the initial Chapter 11 filing. The transaction is expected to close this week, after which Phoenix will take over all direct-to-consumer operations in the U.S. for both Express and Bonobos.

Phoenix Lays Out Future Plans for Express, Bonobos

As part of the initial bankruptcy, all UpWest locations as well as 95 Express stores were closed in April. The remaining Express and Bonobos stores have continued normal operations through the sale process, as have the websites of all three brands. Bonobos’ wholesale operations also continue uninterrupted.

Phoenix paid $138 million in cash and $38 million in assumed liabilities for Express, Inc., according to Bloomberg. However, Simon Property CEO David Simon shared on an earnings call in May 2024 that the Express buyout would require no capital on the part of his company.

Phoenix now plans to run a “financially revitalized DTC retail platform” for Express and Bonobos that sets “the stage for long-term growth,” according to a statement from the company. Plans for the UpWest brand were not mentioned in the statement, but Phoenix did say that it plans to keep Express’ remaining 450 stores open.

“Today’s court approval and the formation of Phoenix marks a vital step in our mission to save Express Inc. and continue serving millions of customers who love the Express and Bonobos brands,” said Yehuda Shmidman, Chairman and CEO of WHP Global, which led the buyout effort, in a statement. “With the restructuring actions accomplished during the Chapter 11 process, we believe Express is now well-positioned for a powerful path forward, benefiting all stakeholders, including our valued vendor partners, licensees, landlords and dedicated team.”

Phoenix Mirrors Previous Simon-Authentic Partnership

Express had hoped that a previous partnership with WHP Global that began in December 2022 would help with a much-needed turnaround. The partnership transformed Express, Inc. into a multi-brand fashion retailer by bringing together the Express, Bonobos and UpWest brands, and included plans to expand the monetization of the Express brand through licensing partnerships.

Then, in September 2023, the company brought in former Tyson Foods exec Stewart Glendinning as CEO to turn around the business, and the company initiated a restructuring effort in February 2024. Despite that, Express was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange on March 6, 2024 due to underperformance and filed for bankruptcy a month later.

WHP Global has become something of a specialist in turning around beleaguered retail brands, facilitating the return of Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Uspurchasing Bonobos in April 2023; and, most recently, teaming up with Guess? to buy Rag & Bone. Property managers Simon and Brookfield also have become regular players in the brand space, taking ownership in an effort to more proactively right the course of pressured retailers like Forever 21 and JCPenney that are critical to their malls.

Perhaps in anticipation of its expanding partnership with WHP, Simon sold off its remaining stake in fellow brand management firm Authentic Brands Group for $1.2 billion in May 2024, after first reducing its share in the company from 12% to just under 10% in Q4 2023. Simon and Authentic remain partners through their joint venture SPARC Group — which is structured very similarly to Phoenix — through which they have bought and rehabilitated a number of struggling retail brands, including Lucky BrandBrooks Brothers, Forever 21 and Eddie Bauer. However Simon also reduced its stake in the SPARC business, from 50% to 33%, last October. Just prior to Simon’s SPARC selloff, in August 2023, Chinese shopping platform Shein acquired an approximately one-third interest in SPARC Group, and SPARC became a minority shareholder in Shein.