The very busy Serge Azria — the creative force behind Joie, Equipment and Current/Elliott — has been even busier lately as a dealmaker.
This story first appeared in the January 10, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Azria has sold a 60 percent stake in the trio’s corporate parent, Dutch LLC, to private equity firm TA Associates. A source close to the transaction said it valued the company at over $500 million.
Azria has been actively developing the businesses, moving them into new product categories and expanding their distribution. And investors have been hot to get their hands on fashion names with growth ahead, especially in the potentially lucrative areas of retail and accessories.
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In an interview late Wednesday, after the deal was first reported on WWD.com, Azria said he didn’t need to sell, but wanted to position the company for continued growth. “I need to plan long term in advance, and to go public and [take] bigger steps, I like to have a big partner with me,” he said.
More deals could be in the offing.
“You never know, maybe we’ll have other acquisitions as well,” Azria hinted.
Dutch’s revenues and profits have grown by more than 30 percent in each of the last five years. All together, the three brands are sold in over 2,000 stores across 75 countries, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Printemps. Joie and Equipment also both sell directly to the consumer via the Web and six stores in New York, Los Angeles and Newport Beach, Calif.
“With the recent addition of e-commerce and company-owned retail boutiques…the Dutch brands are well positioned to become leading lifestyle brands in the contemporary segment,” said James Hart, principal at TA. “We are looking to support the growth of the Dutch brand portfolio and working with the longtime management team and distribution partners to continue increasing the brands’ footprints, collections and overall profile in the marketplace.”
Azria will remain chief executive officer of the company and said that the private equity firm’s support would help Dutch “complete the evolution of our portfolio into true lifestyle brands for savvy, fashion-minded consumers throughout the world.”
The deal adds to the fashion credentials of TA, which in April bought a 30 percent stake in Zadig & Voltaire. TA was founded in 1968 and has raised $18 billion and invested in 425 firms across a range of industries.
“The new contemporary luxury segment has become an incredibly important revenue driver for both premium apparel companies and for retailers focused on this space,” said Jennifer Mulloy, a managing director at TA. “The contemporary niche represents an attractive opportunity for investment in the current economic environment providing a great balance of design, quality and price.”
TA’s Hart and Mulloy will both join Dutch’s board.
Joie is known for its silk tops, but also sells shoes, handbags, outerwear and other categories. Founded in 2001, the brand has four stores and plans to keep expanding, growing its footprint to as many as 15 doors in the near future.
“They will open strategically in different places,” Azria said recently. “We will stay that way, testing and studying to see how it works and doesn’t work. We spend some time before going forward. The goal is not to be a huge retailer and open stores everywhere, absolutely not.”
Stylists Emily Current and Meritt Elliott founded Current/Elliott with Azria in 2008. The brand’s jeans feature faded washes and boyfriend styles and are a favorite of the Hollywood set.
The two stylists said last month they were leaving their namesake brand, offering no reason for their departure.
Azria relaunched Equipment in 2010, breathing new life into the brand founded by Christian Restoin. The brand has expanded from silk shirts into pajama sets, shirt dresses, silk T-shirts, cashmere and the men’s market. Equipment opened its first store in New York’s SoHo last month.
Investment bank Peter J. Solomon Co. advised TA Associates on the deal and Sage Group advised Dutch LLC.