Italian fashion house Versace is selling a 20 percent stake to U.S. private equity firm Blackstone for $287 million, aiming to fund new shops and build on a recent recovery in sales before an eventual stock market listing. The family-controlled brand, which chose pop singer Lady Gaga to promote it last year, struggled for years following the murder of founder Gianni Versace in 1997. While it returned to profit in 2011, it has lacked the cash to expand rapidly in fast-growing markets abroad.
"This is a very large and very well-known brand so it could be revived ... but a lot of work has to be done on the creative side," Exane BNP Paribas analyst Luca Solca said in the wake of the deal on Thursday. "The brand has to be updated and they need new ideas. With a minority stake it might not be possible to make these changes," he added, referring to the potential influence of Blackstone.
Versace, which had been gearing up for a listing before Gianni died, first flagged last April that it was considering opening up to outside investors. The family does not want to relinquish control, a characteristic, which has kept other Italian fashion brands like Giorgio Armani and Missoni in the hands of their founders, but which some analysts say has hampered their expansion. "The vision is to maintain independence," Versace Chief Executive Gian Giacomo Ferraris told Reuters after announcing the deal.
Gianni's sister Donatella is creative director and older brother Santo is company president, while Donatella's daughter Allegra owns 50 percent of the company and sits on the board. Ferraris said a planned initial public offering in the next three to five years was still on the agenda, and Blackstone's investment would help the brand get there.
"In this intermediate period of time you need a financial investor, not a strategic investor," said Ferraris, signaling the company had not wanted a tie-up with another luxury firm or a more activist private equity investor, which might have interfered with its management. Mergers and acquisitions have been picking up in the luxury sector, as a growing number of cash rich buyers from Asia and the Middle East jostle with global luxury brands and private equity firms for deals in a growing industry.