Italia Independent Shares Gain in IPO Debut

Lapo Elkann’s group is the first fashion company to bow on the AIM, a segment of the Italian Stock Exchange for small and medium-sized companies.

MILAN — Italia Independent looks like a stock market hit.

This story first appeared in the July 1, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

To ensure growth without piling on debt, Lapo Elkann’s Italia Independent Group SpA turned to the AIM Italia Alternative Capital Market, a segment of the Italian Stock Exchange for small and medium-sized companies, where shares began trading on Friday, closing up 16.2 percent at 30.20 euros, or $39.20 at current exchange.

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“Our name sums up our views. We bring Italy and its beauty around the world, and we are proud of this, while we maintain our independence,” said Elkann, chairman of the group, during the celebratory event held to mark the listing.

“This is not a conventional choice. To be funded by banks is very difficult today, and we want to maintain our independence, without selling a stake to funds, which have short-term strategies, or outside investors,” said chief executive officer Andrea Tessitore. “We are here for the long run,” he said, adding that there is an 18-month management lockup.

Luca Peyrano, head of Italy and Continental Europe Primary Markets at the Italian Stock Exchange, said the listing marks a turnaround for small and medium-size companies. “Here is a young, dynamic company galloping away, with prospects of big growth ahead,” said Peyrano. “This is a story to tell for the future.”

The AIM segment was unveiled in January, blending two previous markets called AIM Italia and MAC. There are a total of 27 companies currently listed and five, including Italia Independent, have joined since the launch. Elkann’s group is the first fashion company to bow on the AIM.

The funds collected through the listing will go toward buying back a minority stake held by outside investors, among them Brama Sportswear, for about 20 million euros, or $26 million, and also toward developing the brand around the world, with the opening of between four and seven directly operated stores in Europe — Spain and France — and the U.S. The first unit is expected to open in Milan in the Golden Shopping Triangle by the end of the year. Tessitore said this does not mean the company plans to become a retail group, but that it is moving away from a franchised model.

The Turin-based company listed 27 percent of its total shares, priced at 26 euros, or $33.80, with a market capitalization of around 60 million euros, or $78 million. Elkann now owns 48.8 percent of the group, and Tessitore 8.8 percent.

Elkann, wearing a turquoise double-breasted made-to-measure suit by Italia Independent in collaboration with the storied tailoring firm Santandrea, was visibly happy and proud, surrounded by his longtime partners and friends, including Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani, who introduced Elkann to Raffaele Jerusalmi, ceo of the Bourse. “A dinner together in October led to the listing. It’s a great satisfaction, John [Lapo’s brother and Fiat president] and I were the first to support him,” she said, pointing to a Uomo Vogue cover with the young entrepreneur in January 2007. Asked what Elkann’s main talent was, Sozzani quickly responded, “His creativity, and he is supported by a strong team.”

The event also drew Moncler head Remo Ruffini, who is said to be eyeing an initial public offering once again. “The weather being so cold, you could have decided to go public, too,” said Jarusalmi, addressing Ruffini and the unseasonably cool June morning.

“[Brunello] Cucinelli, [Salvatore] Ferragamo, Moncler, this is a beautiful Italy, there are so many people of value, it’s an honor to be part of them,” said Elkann, referring to the first two as listed companies. “Even if we are small, we will work to become bigger. It’s an achievement for us to be here, and we hope to go onto the main market,” he added. Peyrano explained this step can be taken after 18 months on the AIM.

The seven-year-old group, which also includes communications and advertising agency Independent Ideas, which has worked with companies such as Gucci, Moschino and Diesel, last year reported profits of 907,000 euros, or $1.2 million, compared with 149,000 euros, or $193,000, in 2011, on sales of 15.6 million euros, or $20.3 million, up from 9.6 million euros, or $12.5 million, in the previous year.

In the first quarter, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization gained 325 percent to 897,000 euros, or $1.2 million, on sales of 5 million euros, or $6.5 million, up 176 percent compared with the same period the previous year.

In 2012, the brand was available at 1,400 points of sale and counted 50 shops-in-shop. The company opened a subsidiary in Miami six months ago.