By  on January 6, 2005

NEW YORK — Frédéric Fekkai & Co. ended its nine-year joint venture with Chanel Inc. and tapped a private equity firm to fund future product and business expansions, the company said Wednesday.

Catterton Partners, based in Greenwich, Conn., is now the hair care firm’s leading investor. Fekkai also named a new chief executive officer.

The divorce with Chanel, Fekkai said from his Union Square headquarters, was the next, natural step in separating the company from the luxury handbag and beauty firm.

“This is the best opportunity for me to refinance and grow the business the way I want it, focusing on the core business, which is beauty,” he said.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Fekkai said the decision to sever ties with the French fashion firm was unrelated to the recent change in leadership at Chanel. In October, longtime chief executive Arie Kopelman retired and was replaced by Maureen Chiquet.

“I have a very good relationship with them. This is a mutual decision,” Fekkai said.

Fekkai’s business, which generates more than $40 million in annual sales, owns and operates three salons — in Manhattan, Beverly Hills and Palm Beach — and sells hair care and body products in 480 stores in the U.S., such as Sephora, Fred Segal and Saks Fifth Avenue. The company recently expanded product sales to Europe. Plans for 2005 include expanding product to France and Asia, a venture which will be funded by the new relationship with Catterton Partners, Fekkai said. Acquiring new technologies to create innovative product is also a goal.

The split from Chanel was not too surprising. Signals that the relationship was growing apart emerged 18 months ago when Fekkai took on the role of chief executive officer, and when computer systems and other intercompany operations were transferred from Chanel to Fekkai, making Fekkai more autonomous and business efficient. Another sign was when Fekkai’s headquarters moved from Midtown Manhattan, near Chanel headquarters, to downtown late last year.

“This is a natural progression. It was a matter of time,” Fekkai said.

The company also named Melisse Shaban ceo. Shaban, who has worked for Aveda and The Body Shop, said she worked with the equity firm to seek out the luxury hair care company. “We were deeply attracted to the brand. We watched as product emerged. We were very aggressive in seeking him out,” Shaban said.

Fekkai will continue to be the company’s creative force, launching new products and running his salons.

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