The Chase for Dockers: Silas Chou Said Eyeing Levi’s Casualwear Brand

The Chou family — the Hong Kong investors who helped revive Tommy Hilfiger in the 1990s — is said to be considering an acquisition of Dockers.

NEW YORK — The Chou family, the Hong Kong investors who helped revive Tommy Hilfiger in the Nineties, is said to be considering an acquisition of Dockers, according to sources in the financial community.

Silas K.F. Chou, who also has investment stakes in Michael Kors (USA) Inc., British luxury brands Asprey and Garrard and the Hong Kong-based manufacturer Novel Denim Holdings, was traveling and unavailable for comment Friday, according to a Novel official.

Levi Strauss & Co. put the $1 billion Dockers brand on the block in May, hiring Citigroup Inc. to handle the sale, which would help take a hefty bite out of the $2.02 billion debt load that has become a high priority for the company after seven consecutive years of sales declines.

A Levi’s spokesman on Friday said “the process [of selling Dockers] is continuing” but that the company would have no comment until there was “something definitive.” Financial sources said they expect Dockers to sell for $600 million to $700 million.

Intense speculation has surrounded the Dockers brand since its San Francisco-based parent revealed sale plans. While Dockers’ girth limits the number of potential bidders, firms including Li & Fung Ltd., Jones Apparel Group, Liz Claiborne Inc., VF Corp. and Kellwood Co. are said to have considered the acquisition.

VF officials in recent weeks have played down their interest in Dockers, with chairman and chief executive officer Mackey McDonald saying the brand wasn’t “at the top” of the Greensboro, N.C.-based firm’s shopping list. Kellwood officials have expressed interest. A Li & Fung executive last week declined to comment on Dockers. Officials at Jones and Liz Claiborne have not commented on the rumors.

Most of Chou’s recent investment moves have been made in concert with Laurence Stroll. It could not be learned whether the pair was working together on the potential Dockers move. But the pair have played a key role in the development of many household names in the fashion business.

Most notably, in 1989 they bought the Tommy Hilfiger business from Mohan Murjani’s firm for $10 million. In the 13 years they were associated with the firm, Chou and Stroll revitalized the business, giving it a strong global image and turning it into an enterprise that last year had $1.8 billion in worldwide revenues. The pair largely cashed out their holdings in Hilfiger in 2002.

This story first appeared in the August 16, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Prior to that, the pair owned and ran the Polo Ralph Lauren business in Europe.

In 2003, Chou and Stroll took a majority stake in Michael Kors’ business, buying out LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. That followed their 2000 acquisition of the luxury brands Asprey and Garrard. They have since set off to build Kors into a $1 billion business and to expand Asprey into a global luxury brand rivaling Louis Vuitton and Tiffany.

The Chou family’s run in the garment industry started with a Shanghai tailor shop founded by Silas Chou’s grandfather in the 1930s. Chou’s father started Novel after moving to Hong Kong, and a 1997 profile in the South China Morning Post described it as “one of the most successful and influential [firms] in Hong Kong.”

Recent shifts in world trade, however, have taken a toll on Novel Denim. In its most recent fiscal year, ended March 31, the firm reported a net loss of $33 million on sales of $150.7 million. The company also said it was substantially restructuring itself, selling all its operations on the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius and exiting the garment-production business, focusing instead on making textiles in South Africa and China.

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