LONDON — Luxury brands Asprey and Garrard have new owners.
The New York-based private equity firm Sciens Capital Management LLC and the Connecticut-based hedge fund Plainfield Asset Management LLC have acquired, together with the brands' management, 100 percent of the business.
The new company will be called Asprey International.
The sale confirms a WWD report on March 15 that an outright sale of the Asprey and Garrard brands was in the works, and that potential buyers included private equity investment firms with retail experience.
WWD also reported that A&G Group's shareholders of reference, Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Morgan Stanley Capital and the Luxembourg-based TAG Group, were possibly no longer involved.
"We are encouraged to have reached an agreement with Sciens Capital Management and Plainfield Asset Management for the acquisition of Asprey and Garrard," said Gianluca Brozzetti, chief executive of Asprey and Garrard.
"We have completed the expensive first phase of our project and we look forward to future development," he added.
The price of the transaction was not disclosed, although an A&G spokeswoman confirmed the new buyers did not assume any debt. The new shareholders are set to pump in $80 million to $100 million to fund the group's expansion.
But this follows what The Financial Times reported Saturday was close to a $500 million loss by the former shareholders on their investment in the ambitious venture. The plan was to turn A&G Group, particularly Asprey, into a global luxury brand rivaling Tiffany, Cartier or Louis Vuitton. A massive flagship was built on Fifth Avenue at a cost of up to $25 million, and Asprey's product range was expanded to include a full collection of women's and men's ready-to-wear as well as its core products of jewelry, leather goods, china and glass.
But the Asprey and Garrard brands never matched the ambitious sales targets set by the owners and management, and investors repeatedly had to seek additional financing over the last five years.
The new owners said in a joint statement that sales for both brands for the year ending March 2006 are expected to reach $54 million, compared with $51 million in the previous fiscal year.The statement said growth came from all retail channels, despite the negative impact of the terrorist attacks on London last summer.
Asprey's sales were up 15 percent compared with the previous year, while Garrard's were up 51 percent, due, the statement said, to an ever-expanding retail network.
By the end of this month, Asprey will have 15 points of sale and Garrard 24. The new outlets are located in major international cities such as Moscow, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Osaka, and Hong Kong.
John Rigas, chairman and chief executive of Sciens Capital Management said the company's intention was to "assist and support" management in expanding the brands worldwide and restoring them to their historical position of prominence.
Max Holmes, founder and chief investment officer of Plainfield Asset Management, said his company was excited about the growth prospects of Asprey and Garrard worldwide.
As reported, A&G Group, the brands' parent company, had been working with Deloitte and Citigroup since last summer to find an investor for Asprey and Garrard. At the time, the company was looking for an additional $50 million investment.
During the long search for investors — and subsequent negotiation process — the company repeatedly denied that Asprey, Garrard and their associated companies had gone into receivership.
Stroll and Silas Chou said in a statement Sunday: "This is the right next step to take advantage of the long-term potential of Asprey and Garrard. Over the past several years, the A&G team has put in place a solid foundation by properly repositioning the brands and commencing an international retail expansion. While the investment did not perform up to our expectations, it was relatively small compared to our overall portfolio and Sportswear Holdings' day-to-day attention remains focused on our core apparel and textile investments. "
As reported Friday, the Asprey store located at 723 Fifth Avenue in New York will close before September. Asprey is understood to be moving to a smaller site on Madison Avenue. As early as last summer, Stroll conceded to WWD that the mammoth Asprey store on Fifth Avenue was larger than the business required.
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