Vionnet Gets New Majority Owner

Co-owners Matteo Marzotto and his longtime friend and Marni ceo Gianni Castiglioni, who acquired the brand in 2009, will remain shareholders.

MILAN — Vionnet SpA has a new majority stakeholder: Go to Enterprise Sarl, headed by the London-based Goga Ashkenazi.

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Ashkenazi, who is from Kazakhstan, has taken control of the historic fashion brand through an investment agreement that seeks to accelerate the development of the label. Co-owners Matteo Marzotto and his longtime friend and Marni chief executive officer Gianni Castiglioni, who acquired the brand in 2009, will remain shareholders and maintain their operative roles. Marzotto is expected to become executive vice president; he was previously chairman of the brand. A third existing partner, Marco Casoni, will remain a shareholder and a manager.

Ashkenazi has been looking to invest in leading fashion brands for some time. She is well-known in the U.K., making headlines for her friendship with Prince Andrew and her opulent lifestyle, which is partially funded by oil tycoon Timur Kulibayev, who controls the vast majority of Kazakhstan’s oil fields and with whom Ashkenazi has a son.

An upbeat Marzotto told WWD he was “very happy” with the deal, as it allows Vionnet to enter the third phase of its relaunch and “seize new opportunities.” The first phase, said the executive, “was the initial acquisition three years ago, and the second phase included setting the foundations.”

Marzotto declined to disclose financial details and the precise amount of shares sold to Ashkenazi, but said the investment was in line with the luxury sector and that it would allow further development of the brand.

The first step of the new course is a runway show to be held in Paris in October, which will also mark the brand’s 100th anniversary. It will be the first show since 1939, when founder Madeleine Vionnet shuttered her namesake fashion house at the outbreak of World War II.

Marzotto said he plans to hold an event to celebrate the centenary. “We also want to start looking with determination at opening a boutique in Paris, depending on the opportunity,” he said. “This will ratify the relaunch of the house.” The original Vionnet boutique and atelier stood on Avenue Montaigne in Paris.

With new resources, a top priority is to invest in the Far East, added Marzotto. “On July 2, this will be the third year Vionnet is in business again. This [deal] is a positive step.”

Marzotto, the former chairman of Valentino SpA and heir to the Marzotto textile family, praised Ashkenazi’s “great intelligence” and “international vision.” He added that she was determined to invest “in a world she is very attracted to and very passionate about,” but that she is also a customer who will be able to provide first-hand input. “She is our target customer,” said Marzotto, noting that Ashkenazi will wear a Vionnet gown to the amfAR event in Cannes, France, on Thursday.

“She is well-connected globally and full of energy and, the more we got to know each other, the more we realized we shared common interests,” explained Marzotto. “She will be very relevant to the brand and participate in mapping out strategies.”

Ashkenazi stated she was “delighted to join the Vionnet family, which is, without a doubt, already a success story. I admire all that the brand represents, including the team behind what has been created so far based on the principles and vision of Madeleine Vionnet.”

An industry source said Ashkenazi, who owns a villa in Florence, has been carefully shopping for a majority stake in Italian and French brands for some time. “She really is very interested in fashion and wants to be part of this industry,” said the source. “She has a razor-sharp intelligence, has a strong business sense and wants to be actively involved in the fashion business.”

The first directly owned Vionnet boutique opened in Milan in December, with an atelier adjacent to the store where seamstresses work on prototypes. There also is a franchised unit in Kuwait City, which opened in February 2011.

In October, Marzotto tapped twin sisters Barbara and Lucia Croce as creative directors, succeeding Rodolfo Paglialunga.

Sales in 2011 were expected to reach more than 7 million euros, or $9.7 million at average exchange.