By  on February 5, 2007

LONDON ­— Fashion designers have two new fairy godmothers — and they're backed by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.

Marty Wikstrom and Dawn Mello have joined forces to create an investment fund, called The Atelier Fund, whose principal investor is Richemont. And their first investments include adampluseve, whose show is today at Jane Street Studio. Sources said Atelier paid about $9 million for a 49 percent stake in the fashion brand.

Atelier, founded 11 months ago, also has taken stakes in Harrys of London, the men's footwear brand founded by Matthew Mellon, and Mary Norton, the handbag firm.

Retail industry veterans — and friends — Mello and Wikstrom are working alongside Jon Brilliant, a former financial strategist at Harrods, and former managing director for U.S. operations at Syntek Capital AG, the Munich-based private equity fund.

In an exclusive interview, Wikstrom and Mello said the aim is to apply their decades of retail experience to building up affordable luxury fashion brands.

"We're retailers — we have a sense of what works on the selling floor. We're not your average private equity investors," said Mello, the former president of Bergdorf Goodman and head of Dawn Mello & Associates, a consultant to fashion and retail firms.

Wikstrom, the former managing director of Harrods and former president of Nordstrom's full-line stores, said the goal of the fund is to "help very talented designers implement their strategies, and achieve their goals."

Although Wikstrom and Mello declined to comment on the value of the fund, the size of the companies they're scouting and their brand-building strategies, Wikstrom said they are not interested in start-ups, but rather in "functioning" businesses with potential.

They are not looking to buy businesses outright, but will take minority and majority stakes in companies on a case-by-case basis. They are looking worldwide for investments, but have a strong preference for North American brands, Wikstrom said. She did not reveal whether Atelier would have right of first refusal to buy the remaining shares in the companies in which it takes a stake.

A Richemont spokesman declined to say how much money the luxury goods group has invested in Atelier, but he did say it was an attractive opportunity for the company, whose brand portfolio includes Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chloé, Mont Blanc and Dunhill. "It allows Richemont to piggyback on Dawn Mello's and Marty Wikstrom's talent-spotting expertise," he said, stressing Atelier was a separate entity from Richemont.

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