By  on June 28, 2006

NEW YORK — With the wind at its back, J. Crew Group Inc. is set to launch its much-anticipated initial public offering today.

The company planned to issue 18.8 million shares, at $20 a share, or $376 million, to pay down its $352 million in debt and propel further growth. The offering is being led by Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Bear Stearns & Co.

J. Crew Group has been controlled by the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group for the last nine years. With the offering, the company will have 56.9 million shares outstanding, with an estimated value of between $850 million and $1 billion, according to the prospectus. The company declined comment as of press time Tuesday.

While J. Crew delayed an offering last fall, the timing for the IPO now appears more opportune. Some analysts and fashion companies are expecting an improvement in the IPO market in the second half. BCBG, for example, has hired Goldman and Citigroup as financial advisers for a possible public offering.

J. Crew has gained additional momentum in the last six months, coming off a winning spring season, and there is a lot of confidence in the brand's leadership.

The company foundered for years, making it difficult for Texas Pacific to recoup its investment. But the retailer's performance has noticeably improved in the past year. J. Crew has been turned around by Millard "Mickey" Drexler, chief executive officer, and Jeff Pfeifle, president. They both joined the brand three-and-a-half years ago, with Drexler making a $10 million investment in J. Crew at the time. With his stock grants, he owns 22 percent of the company. He does not plan to sell any of his shares as part of the IPO.

J. Crew's better financial results are based on a merchandise overhaul, marked by preppy, quirky and colorful styles and an emphasis on Crew's whimsical and signature pieces, such as the Legacy blazer, Italian cashmere sweaters and broken-in chinos. There also has been new sourcing and a switch to higher-grade mills for production.

On top of this, the company has been adding higher price points and layering in categories, including more tailored apparel, accessories and occasion wear.

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