By and  on November 4, 2005

PARIS — Another French fashion house has come under American ownership.

Emanuel Ungaro said Thursday that Gruppo Ferragamo signed an agreement to sell 100 percent of the company to San Francisco-based high-tech entrepreneur Asim Abdullah.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Abdullah, while new to the fashion industry, plans to swiftly put his imprint on a brand synonymous with feminine opulence and the color fuchsia. Ungaro president and chief executive officer Paolo Di Spirt, who will continue in his role, said Abdullah is prepared to invest in the company and even relaunch the couture, possibly with a new designer.

"It's a good solution for the Ferragamos, and it's a good solution for the management and the employees," Di Spirt said. "We are all very excited here."

Di Spirt declined to discuss the purchase price, but scoffed at Italian press reports that pegged it at a symbolic euro. He said the Ferragamos, who will continue to hold the Ungaro licenses for leather goods and fragrances, chose Abdullah over other suitors because of the financial commitments he was willing to make to the brand.

One source estimated the deal would be worth $5 million to $10 million for the fashion and fragrance businesses. The level of debt is believed to be in the range of $25 million.

Salvatore Ferragamo bought Ungaro in 1996 when the brand, especially the Emanuel/Emanuel Ungaro bridge collection, was riding high. In 1997, designer Giambattista Valli was hired to work aside the couturier. He was named creative director in 1998 and took the reins from Ungaro in 2001.

Although Valli ultimately became a darling of the press, the road to rejuvenation has not been an easy one for the house. In 2003, Di Spirt was named ceo with an intent to relaunch the brand and focus on its core women's and men's ready-to-wear and accessories businesses, while also identifying strategic partners for production, distribution and licensing. Di Spirt replaced Valli with Moschino alum Vincent Darré, who has presented two rtw collections for the house.

Di Spirt said on Thursday that the house would stage its next rtw show in March, but not necessarily with Darré. "Obviously, we've had hiccups," Di Spirt said, referring to poor reviews for Darré's debut collection. "We are looking at possible candidates and alternatives. We hope to work very much on the product."And even though Ungaro himself left the couture runway behind in 2004, the house maintained its atelier of 20 workers to serve a private clientele.

The transaction comes nine months after Florida-based travel-retail firm Falic Group purchased Christian Lacroix from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Born in Pakistan, Abdullah, 42, was raised in the U.S. and made his fortune as one of the founders of high-tech giant Commerce One, Di Spirt said. Most recently, he was co-founder and ceo of VEO Systems. Described as having a passion for luxury goods and fashion, Abdullah purchased Ungaro via Aimz, his personal investment vehicle.

"Emanuel Ungaro has a rich history and great brand awareness," Abdullah said in a statement. "I am convinced that there's plenty of space to grow the brand in terms of prestige and markets."

Leonardo Ferragamo, an adviser to Ferragamo Finanziaria, which handles the group's diversified operations, said, "We feel that Abdullah has the competence, the credibility and the determination" to invest in "and the lead the company to success."

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