By and  on October 5, 2006

PARIS — Private equity strikes again.

Reig Capital Group is the new owner of the French fashion house Loris Azzaro and plans to open stores in key international markets and develop lucrative categories like footwear.

Based in Barcelona and London, Reig Capital acquired the firm from Com­pagnie Financiere Frey, which bought the brand in 2002 as part of a drive to expand its luxury division. Frey is best known for its Champagne, wine and real estate holdings.

Reig owns the Spanish jewelry brand Vasari, is a partner in the Manolo Blahnik franchised store in Madrid and owns and develops luxury hotels with W and Mandarin Oriental.

Terms of the Azzaro deal were not disclosed, but one source valued the deal at less than 20 million euros, or $25.6 million at current exchange.

WWD first reported that Azzaro was in play last January. Frey was advised by BNP Paribas in Paris.

"It's an iconic brand with a distinct style and timeless quality — and it has a lot of potential," said Sagra Maceira de Rosen, managing director of Reig's luxury and retail division and investment director of Reig Capital Luxury Partners, the group's private equity fund. "Luxury ready-to-wear will remain the core of the brand, but we'll continue to develop footwear and, eventually, possibly go into accessories. We're taking it step-by-step and really want to get a feel for the business."

Maceira de Rosen, previously a luxury and retail analyst at J.P. Morgan in London, confirmed the house would retain designer Vanessa Seward, who succeeded the house founder following his death in November 2003. With her glamorous and sparkling cocktail and evening dresses, Seward has generated strong buzz for the brand and attracted celebrity devotees such as Nicole Kidman and Penélope Cruz.

Maceira de Rosen said Reig intends to widen Az­zaro's rtw offering, which is now centered on high-priced occasion dressing. Cities such as L.A., London, Moscow and Hong Kong are considered targets for retail stores, "and we'll also be pushing the wholesale strategy," she said. "As we open stores and increase distribution, the collection will widen and grow.

"Our intention is to keep this investment for a very long time — it's not your usual private equity investment," she continued. "It's an iconic brand that we love, and the Reig family wants to keep it."Founded in 1962, Azzaro quickly became known for body-hugging gowns, especially a jersey style with circular cutouts, worn by the likes of Marisa Berenson. But the brand is probably best known for its men's fragrances, produced by Clarins, which had owned the brand from 1995 until 2002.

Parfums Azzaro — Groupe Clarins' number-two fragrance brand after Thierry Mugler Parfums — clocked double-digit growth in the first half of 2006, when it increased sales 16 percent to 46.9 million euros, or $21.6 million at current exchange. Growth was spurred by the continued success of its classic scents, including Chrome, which is ranked seventh in the U.S., and Azzaro pour Homme.

Recent launches include Pink Tonic, a women's scent; Bright Visit, a flanker to its Visit brand, and Jetlag, the men's scent and Azzaro's first travel-retail exclusive that was launched this June. Last year Azzaro introduced Silver Black for men.

In 2005, the brand generated sales of 95 million euros, or $121 million, a 4 percent rise year-on-year. More than 91 percent of its business is rung up by men's products.

This July, the firm signed a deal with The Porsche Design Group, a subsidiary of Porsche, to create and distribute men's fragrances. The first scent is scheduled to be introduced in 2008.

With contributions from Ellen Groves

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