By  on April 6, 1994

NEW YORK -- Plaid who?

Plaid Clothing Group is a relatively unknown -- but sizable -- producer of men's tailored clothing that stepped into the international limelight last month with its bid for GFT, the ailing Italian apparel giant.

The GFT deal is currently in due diligence and, if completed, it will make Plaid the largest manufacturer of tailored clothing in the world, with revenues exceeding $1 billion.

Plaid is also a very private company.

The man in control is chairman and director Omar Z. Al Askari, who controls 93.7 percent of Plaid's voting stock.

He is also chief executive of United Eastern Investment Corp. (UEIC) in Abu Dhabi, which he organized in 1984 to invest personal and syndicated assets in international markets.

According to an 8-K registration filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last month, Al Askari's shares of common stock in Plaid Clothing are actually "owned of record by Plaid BV, a wholly owned subsidiary of Plaid NV. Mr. Al Askari...owns all of the voting shares of UEIC which in turn owns all of the voting shares of Plaid Holdings NV.

"Accordingly, he may be deemed to have beneficial ownership of the shares owned by Plaid BV."

Al Askari, who resides in Abu Dhabi, in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf, is no newcomer to the U.S. He was educated in this country and, before returning to his homeland, Al Askari reportedly worked for Arthur Andersen, the accounting and consulting company.

Plaid is currently the second-largest maker of men's tailored clothing in the U.S., and its bid last month of $236.8 million (400 billion lire) for GFT bested some serious competition: Mexican industrialist Fabio Covarrubias and Italian textile powerhouse Miroglio SpA.

Despite the publicity generated by Plaid's bid, veterans in the apparel business are generally stumped when asked for details about the company, even though everybody knows its two divisions -- Palm Beach, the Chevrolet of the men's suit business, and J. Schoeneman, the century-old Baltimore company that turned Burberrys into one of the hottest names in the men's business.

The curtain was lifted on some of Plaid Clothing's structure when the 8-K registration form was filed last month with the SEC to sell $75 million of senior subordinated notes through Goldman, Sachs & Co. to refinance Plaid's existing debt.The current corporate entity, Plaid Clothing Group, produces men's and boys' suits, sport coats, dress slacks, suit separates, overcoats and rainwear. Plaid Clothing Group was created in 1991 in order to acquire J. Schoeneman from Bidermann Industries Corp.

With its operations now centralized in the U.S., the company was formerly Plaid Acquisition Corp. a subsidiary of Plaid NV, a Netherlands corporation owned by a group of international investors.

Plaid Clothing Group's reported 1992 volume was $271.1 million, with a gross profit of $58.5 million.

Plaid-watchers agree that the company has a solid lineup of executives under Al Askari. Many of the observers are familiar not only with the business scene in the United States, but also with the world markets.

Among the apparel veterans on Plaid's board, who are also minority stockholders, are William B. Anneken, vice chairman of the board and chairman of the executive committee, who was a former vice president of Crystal Brands after it acquired Palm Beach, his alma mater; James J. Stankovic, president and ceo, who first joined Schoeneman in 1960 and became president in 1988 before the company was acquired, and Ronald T. Monford, executive vice president and chief operating officer, who held the same posts at Schoeneman.

Also on the board, but owning no stock are C. James Murray, senior vice president of the Palm Beach division, and Michael V. Kinney, president of the Brannoch division. Both held those posts before Plaid bought the companies.

Other key Plaid executives come from the fields of international finance and law: Robert J. Kueppers, executive vice president and chief financial officer, who was a partner in the predecessor Plaid firm, and Joseph G. Riemer 3rd, executive vice president and general counsel, who is a specialist in merchant banking and financing international acquisitions.

Currently, Plaid is strictly a men's wear producer, with its own portfolio of notable names, such as Nicole Miller, Nautica and Hanae Mori.

Plaid's executives are experienced players in the name game, and people in the men's wear market insist this is one of the company's strong suits in making its GFT purchase an eventual winner.The company's own stable of licensed brands include Burberrys, Evan-Picone, Christian Dior, Halston for Men, John Weitz and Bill Robinson. The company's own brands are Palm Beach, Brannoch and Gleneagles. In addition, Plaid markets a wide range of private label clothing under its Custom Label program.

In boys' wear, it has tailored clothing licenses with Pierre Cardin, Polo by Ralph Lauren and Gant.

For years before Plaid's takeover, Schoeneman was known as a low-key private label clothing company that consistently won high marks for its fabric innovation. Palm Beach, the father of the wrinkle-free summer suits with its famous cloth named after the company, was always regarded as a perennial.

Both were profitable but very conservative members of the clothing community, but the scene changed dramatically for the Schoeneman/Palm Beach Cos. as they are now called. Designer licenses were signed and marketing was aggressively beefed up with high-profile brand promotions at the World Series and on the professional golf circuit.

The company effected these changes while keeping existing management largely in place, a style that is said to appeal to GFT's current executives, namely chairman Marco Rivetti and managing director Clemente Signoroni, who reportedly would like to continue to play an important part in GFT's future.

Plaid is structured to manufacture and sell clothing at a broad sweep of price points, ranging from a low of $250 for Palm Beach suits to a high of $695 in the Burberrys line, which, the 8-K points out, "competes with Hickey-Freeman and [Greif's] Kilgour French & Stanbury."

The financial profile of the company lists its 10 largest customers, which accounted for 36 percent of its sales. The list for 1992 includes the May Company (Lord & Taylor, Filene's and Kaufman's), Federated Department Stores (Bloomingdale's, A&S and Jordan Marsh), Brooks Bros., J.C. Penney, Mercantile Stores and Macy's.

Other customers for the various divisions include such top retailers as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Mark Shale and Britches of Georgetowne.

In addition, the company sells some of its products through promotional channels such as Today's Man and The Men's Wearhouse, as well as to off-pricers, including Gentry Shops and Marshalls.Despite Plaid's being a major player on the U.S. men's wear scene, at first glance the numbers indicate that its bid for GFT is a commercial play on the David-Goliath story.

GFT's estimated volume for 1993 is $854 million, or 1.4 trillion lire, and that's three times as much as its would-be buyer. But the international Italian apparel giant, with its glittering stable of designers, suffered tremendous loses in the past two years.

Banking sources in Italy indicate that 1993 losses could run more than $60 million -- and that's in addition to a $52 million (89 billion lire) loss in 1992.

Can Plaid turn around GFT?

Observers agree that the U.S. company, with its combination of deep pockets, production and marketing savvy, stands a good chance of stopping the flow of red ink.

They are even more intrigued by the way a GFT acquisition graduates Plaid into the big leagues, with a roster of men's and women's designers: Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Emanuel Ungaro, Calvin Klein, Pierre Cardin, Joseph Abboud, Andrew Fezza and Louis Feraud.

GFT is a designer label manufacturing and distribution company with 34 operating subsidiaries in Italy, Europe, North America and the Far East. GFT is the operator of a total of 16 manufacturing facilities in Italy, the United States, Spain, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and China.

Seventy percent of its revenues come from men's wear and the balance from women's wear. Approximately 72 percent of the volume is from export markets.

Plaid's marketing strategy, spelled out in the 8-K, "is to focus on serving the market for men's tailored clothing where the company has developed marketing expertise and manufacturing strength over the last 100 years.

"Within the market for men's suits with regular retail prices above $250, the company intends to continue to offer products that cover a broad range of price points and respond to consumer preferences for a variety of styles."

How? Plaid intends to travel the licensing route to grab a bigger share of the American clothing market. The recent signing of Hanae Mori could be a hint of more to come.

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