By and  on April 1, 2011

PARIS — Signaling a buoyant market for luxury footwear and a perky climate for mergers and acquisitions, Fung Capital and fashion veteran Jean-Marc Loubier have teamed up to acquire a majority stake in luxury French shoemaker Robert Clergerie from its namesake founder.

RC Holdings — a new entity held by Fung Brands Limited, a subsidiary of Fung Capital Limited, and Loubier — said it took a 90 percent stake in Financiere de Romans, which owns the Clergerie, Fenestrier and Espace brands, with the designer maintaining 10 percent.

Financial terms were not disclosed; however, it is understood Fung holds the majority of RC Holdings.

London-based Fung Capital is the private equity partnership of Victor and William Fung of Li & Fung Ltd., which bought Hardy Amies in 2008.

Li & Fung, the Hong Kong-based sourcing titan, has made it clear acquisitions are on the agenda. Among deals in 2010 was the acquisition of Integrated Distribution Services, as well as significant licensing agreements with brands such as Sean John, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Rachel Zoe and French Connection.

Loubier, who has been chief executive officer at fashion houses Escada and Celine, already has ties to Li & Fung. In 2009, he was named a director of its luxury men’s wear retailer Trinity.

Loubier told WWD he would assume the role of president of Clergerie, with the designer remaining involved in product development and communications.

Clergerie bought back a 90 percent stake in his company in 2004 after ceding majority control to investment fund SG European Equity Partners in 1999.

Clergerie’s factory — in operation in the Drome region of France since 1895 — is one of the last remaining ones in Romans, and the designer remains a staunch supporter of French-made shoes. The company employs 200 people and generates revenues of more than 20 million euros, or $28.3 million at current exchange. Loubier noted the firm operates at break even. There are 20 freestanding Clergerie stores in France, the U.K., Spain, Switzerland and the U.S.

Loubier said he sees significant expansion potential in Europe, the U.S. and Asia, and that the business could double in size in four or five years. He noted that Clergerie’s original innovation — interpreting masculine shoes for women — is currently in line with trends as extreme shoe designs ebb.

From the early days of his career, Clergerie was a trendsetter with his chic, yet wearable styles. He was the first designer to make women’s shoes on a men’s lasts, and is perhaps best known for the collection of women’s lace-up oxfords he launched in 1981. In 1992, he created an iconic raffia sandal, and two years later launched a line of winter sandals (designed to be worn with big, thick socks) — something that was revolutionary at the time. Through the Eighties and Nineties, Clergerie developed a strong following at top U.S. department stores, opening his first Stateside store in 1987.

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