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Georg Jensen Bought by Investcorp

New owner has deep pockets and is out to turn the Danish company into one of the world’s largest luxury brands.

LONDON — Georg Jensen has a new owner with deep pockets that’s out to turn the Danish company into one of the world’s largest luxury brands: Investcorp.

This story first appeared in the November 6, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The private equity fund bought Jensen from Denmark’s Axcel Capital Partners for $140 million. Investcorp has operations in Bahrain, London and New York, and currently has $11.5 billion in assets under management and a proven track record in turning brands into major players — just ask Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co. and Gucci. Investcorp has been off the fashion scene for some time, however, pretty much since it floated Gucci on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in 1995. It had earlier floated Tiffany on the New York Stock Exchange in 1987.

The fund has the same strategy for Georg Jensen and may seek a public listing for the company in Asia in five to seven years.

“We’d like to make this the next Tiffany, the European Tiffany,” Hazem Ben-Gacem, head of Investcorp’s European corporate investment activities, told WWD.

“We plan to take on board the brand’s history and heritage and execute all of our experience with Breguet, Chaumet and Tiffany to give Georg Jensen a global luxury brand positioning,” he added.

Georg Jensen, whose products range from diamond jewelry to watches and silverware to objects for the home — all with a Scandinavian midcentury modern aesthetic — was an attractive prospect, said Ben-Gacem. “There are only a handful of legitimate, 100-year-old brands out there that are for sale and that have the potential to become billion-plus businesses.”

The brand was founded by the silversmith Georg Jensen in 1904, and originally specialized in tableware and objects for the home. It currently has 94 directly operated stores worldwide, and has been owned by Axcel since 2001 when the latter purchased it as part of the Royal Scandinavia Group.

Ulrik Garde Due, the chief executive officer who helped the loss-making Georg Jensen turn its first profit under Axcel in 2010, will remain in place. Investcorp plans to bring in Nautica founder David Chu as chief creative director and cochairman of the board, along with Ben-Gacem.

“David is also a fully fledged partner in the business, having invested his own money, and his role will be full time. He’ll be the Tom Ford of Georg Jensen, working on product design and brand extensions,” said Ben-Gacem.

Investcorp has also brought in Guy Leymarie, whom Ben-Gacem said helped on the Jensen due diligence from Day One. Leymarie, the former ceo of brands including De Beers Diamond Jewelers, Cartier and Dunhill, will join the new board.

Ben-Gacem said that initially the plan is to pursue Sweden and Germany, markets that have a natural affinity with the Jensen brand. In the U.S., where the brand has a small presence, Jensen will be looking for “partnerships or relationships” with department stores, he added.

While the majority of Georg Jensen’s retail sales are in Asia, Ben-Gacem said building a business there would take time. “Georg Jensen does less than $1 million in business in China. By comparison, it does $50 million worth of business in Denmark.”

In terms of product, he said that going forward men’s accessories would be among the categories to be expanded and developed.

In the year to Dec. 31, the brand’s revenue grew 8 percent to 914 million Danish kroner, or $164.5 million, while profits fell 29 percent to 6 million Danish kroner, or $1.1 million, due to expenses from retail expansion and executive hiring.

Last year, the brand opened 25 stores and doubled its shop-in-shop on Harrods’ ground floor to 356 square feet. Last November, it opened a new space at Bloomingdale’s luxury jewelry room in New York. Retail accounts for 57 percent of the business while wholesale, e-commerce and travel retail make up the rest.

Scandinavia and Asia-Pacific each generate 42 percent of sales, with Continental Europe kicking in 10 percent, and North America 6 percent. Jewelry is the largest product category, accounting for 50 percent of sales, while homeware generates 26 percent and watches 10 percent. Silverware and seasonal items account for the balance.

Georg Jensen continues to evolve: The brand is set to launch a “Great Danes” ad campaign shot by Tim Walker, and a similarly themed blog that celebrates the culture and heritage of Denmark.

The Danish singer Oh Land features in the new campaign alongside the up-and-coming actor Pilou Asbaek. Land is pictured as a modern-day mermaid, while Asbaek is dressed as Hamlet. Other figures include dancers from the Danish Royal Ballet, a swan and a brood of ducklings in a nod to the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Y-chair by Wegner for Carl Hansen.

Walker shot the images two weeks ago on location at a manor house outside Oxford. The campaign was produced with the New York agency Lipman.

The campaign will launch officially during New York Fashion Week in February, with a dinner hosted by Land, Walker and Garde Due. The ads will break in the March issues of titles including Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar.

The blog, which will feature everything Danish from food to acting talent, to Denmark’s great outdoors, launches Nov. 19. “It’s a good moment for us — we’re a small country but great things are happening, and as a brand we want to take ownership of what is cool in Denmark,” Garde Due told WWD.

The blog will launch initially in English, and eventually in Danish and other languages, and will also serve as a platform for emerging talent in the country, said Garde Due.

Georg Jensen also plans to reproduce limited-edition capsule collections of archive items that featured in the August runway show of the Danish fashion designer Ole Yde, including two bracelets and a necklace. Going forward, the brand plans to issue annual archive capsule collections all based around a theme.