NEW YORK — Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. reported Tuesday it had sold its 19 percent stake in Gant to the newly formed Gant Holdings AB, reaping proceeds of roughly $19 million, exclusive of fees and expenses.

Shareholders in the new holding company, which is preparing to launch a women’s casual sportswear line in Europe for spring 2004, include L Capital, an LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-sponsored private equity fund; 3i Group plc, a European equity fund, and the three founders of Gant Co., Lennart Björk, Klas Käll and Staffan Wittmark.

Officials at Gant and PVH said the deal amounted to PVH selling its Gant stake to 3i. In all, 3i now holds 20.6 percent, while L Capital holds about 35 percent, up from a 24 percent stake previously, and the firm’s three founders collectively hold the rest.

PVH initially acquired Gant as part of its 1995 acquisition of the apparel group of Crystal Brands Inc. for $114.7 million.

PVH’s chief financial officer Emanuel Chirico noted, “It was a passive investment. As much as we think it’s a terrific brand, we’re very focused on the Calvin Klein business and would rather invest our funds there.”

While the dollar value of the transactions were not disclosed, multiple market sources estimate it valued the Gant business at $125 million, converted from Swedish krona at current exchange.

Gant Co. AB, which is based in Stockholm and has traditionally traded in men’s wear with a classic flavor, will launch a women’s casual sportswear line for the spring 2004 season in 11 European countries. Deliveries are set to start hitting stores in December.

Ari Hoffman, chief executive of Gant USA, said in an interview that a U.S. launch would follow the rollout.

“We’re not going to wait too long,” he said. “As we are in the process of repositioning the men’s brands, I’d like to stay focused. I have this great challenge ahead of me to reposition Gant men’s sportswear.”

The new women’s line will be designed through a team effort in Stockholm, said Hoffman. “Basically, we’re a lifestyle brand, so we’d like to keep [women’s] that way, just like men’s.”Themes for the new women’s line include Ivy League; Navigator; The Hamptons, with a casual summer feel, and the more elegant Park Avenue.

“Gant is a very strong, forceful brand so they’re mature markets for the brand, which means they’re really ready and waiting for the launch of women’s,” said Hoffman, who expects significant early penetration from the start.

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