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L Capital to Buy Stake in Groupe SMCP

Groupe SMCP controls French contemporary brands, Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot.

PARIS — French contemporary brands Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot are growing their thriving family.

Groupe SMCP, which controls the three brands, has agreed to sell a 51 percent stake to L Capital, the private equity arm of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the luxury group headed by Bernard Arnault, and Florac, an investment fund owned by the Louis-Dreyfus family, the three parties said Monday.

“With the creation of a ready-to-wear group made up of creative and aspirational brands, this transaction aims to confirm the success of the Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot brands in Europe and accelerate their international expansion,” L Capital and Florac said.

The deal comes as Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot prepare to enter the United States and Asia, with the aim of growing their joint store network to 500 by mid-2012 from 338 at present, SMCP chief executive officer Frédéric Biousse told WWD.

“We have been thinking for some time that it might be timely for us to join forces with partners who could contribute connections and contacts, and also a certain know-how in these geographical areas,” he said.

Biousse declined to provide financial details of the deal, which is expected to be finalized within six to eight weeks, subject to regulatory approval.

He said SMCP chose L Capital because of its existing assets in the textile sector and its experience working with rapidly expanding, formerly family-run brands.

“The other thing, of course, is that L Capital is backed by a prestigious group and has a tremendous number of contacts overseas, namely in the United States and Asia, and we know this fund will bring us precious operational assistance,” he noted.

L Capital has increased its presence in the contemporary segment this year by taking stakes in Barcelona-based Pepe Jeans and Italian apparel and denim brand Dondup.

Biousse said Florac was selected because of the Louis-Dreyfus clan’s reputation for strong ethics and family values. The firm is founded and run by Marie-Jeanne Meyer, former managing director of Louis Dreyfus Group and sister of the late billionaire Robert Louis-Dreyfus.

“For us, coming from a family culture, it is extremely reassuring working with people who are very knowledgeable about international trade, but who are also very attached to the human and family dimensions of our firms. This alliance allows us to benefit immediately from strong operational added value, while still preserving our culture and reassuring our teams,” said Biousse.

L Capital and Florac are acting through newly created firm LF Invest, in which they each have a 50 percent stake, he specified.

Day-to-day operations at Groupe SMCP will remain in the hands of its historical shareholders. “For us, the most important thing was that these funds took a stake on the express condition that we remain, which suits us, because we have absolutely no intention of leaving,” Biousse explained.

Groupe SMCP will be presided over by sisters Evelyne Chétrite and Judith Milgrom, the designers who founded Sandro and Maje, respectively. Biousse will share the ceo post with his financial partner Elie Kouby, former commercial director of fashion chain Comptoir des Cotonniers.

SMCP has created a U.S. subsidiary to oversee the opening of its first Stateside stores next year. Sandro and Maje will open two stores each in New York City in April or May 2011, with a launch in as-yet-unspecified U.S. department stores in July. The brands are scheduled to launch in Asia in late 2011 or early 2012, Biousse added.

SMCP is also introducing a new multibrand format dubbed Suite 341 — a wordplay on the phrase “three for one” — that will carry Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot alongside guest brands and homeware items. The first of the stores opened in Angoulême in southwestern France on Sept. 18.

“Multibrand shops and specialty stores are making a comeback,” noted Biousse.

The boutiques will open in smaller French towns where demand is not strong enough to support separate stores for each brand — Brest, Lorient and Mulhouse are next in line — in addition to European capitals, where they will act as a testing ground for the future development of the three labels. Japan will follow late next year.