PARIS — Obsessed with gardening and prized for artful use of botanical prints on his fashions, Dries Van Noten seems like an ideal designer to extend his brand into the fragrance universe.And there may well be one or several scents — floral ones perhaps — in the near future, given his new majority owner is Puig, the Spanish company prized for its olfactory storytelling.E-commerce could be another growth vector for a brand established in 1986 and still not yet in present in an array of categories, including homewares — a perfect canvas for a designer so adept at rich color and pattern.On Thursday, details were scant when the Belgian designer and the fashion and fragrance company announced the deal, with Van Noten remaining “a significant majority shareholder” over the long term and continuing as chief creative officer and chairman of the board.“We look forward to further developing the Dries Van Noten label, a brand renowned for exceptional creativity,” Marc Puig, chairman and chief executive officer of Puig, said in a statement.He did not elaborate, and neither he nor Van Noten was available for further comment.“As an independent fashion house, Dries Van Noten has, over the years, built an exceptional reputation with its avant-garde fashion collections,” Puig added.WWD broke the news March 27 that the Belgian designer had hired Elsa Berry’s Vendôme Global Partners to bring in an investor.Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.On the surface, Van Noten and Puig would appear to be a good fit. A joint statement noted their privately owned companies “are each committed to prudent and intuitive growth.”Like many of his compatriots, Van Noten — one of the Antwerp Six, who launched his label with men’s wear — has resisted most of the common paths to growth in fashion, forgoing pre-collections, advertising, celebrity dressing and a handbag push.“Our business doesn’t have to grow every year a huge amount, like when you are a part of a big group,” he said in a 2013 interview. “I don’t need to have a store in every city. It’s a luxury that I can say I just want to continue the way that we are doing…to be creative and be busy with things I really love and not be forced to do all the bags and the shoes and the sunglasses and things like that.”His label is known for its dignified, elegant designs tinged with exotic details. Van Noten is also something of a fashion showman, once dotting his runway with floral bouquets frozen in blocks of ice. He marked his 50th show with a spectacular dinner for 500 guests at a long table that later became the catwalk, under a row of vintage chandeliers.Van Noten already has boutiques in cities including Antwerp, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Seoul, some with partners, while key retail clients include Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Le Bon Marché, Harrods, Lane Crawford, Harvey Nichols and Shinsegae.Puig could also consider expanding Van Noten’s retail footprint in other key fashion capitals like Milan or London, for example.“It’s a brand which has huge potential,” said Olivier Salomon, a managing director at AlixPartners management services company in Paris, who oversees luxury and retail in France. “Potentially, [Puig] will bring the capital to help develop the brand further, because it lacks visibility and a footprint in terms of the retail network.”Such expansion would likely come in the form of more company-owned stores. “If you look at the luxury brands, most of them are trying to grow their business through their retail network,” Salomon added.In terms of product categories that might be developed, Salomon said: “Clearly there’s an opportunity around accessories…[and] around perfume. There’s an obvious connection with the new shareholder around this category, as well.”The development of digital is another possible growth engine. “It’s not just putting together a web site and being able to present your products on the web, but it’s all the operational infrastructure that you need to be able to deliver to customers globally,” said the executive. “Again, this requires know-how, operational capabilities and capital.”Van Noten became CFDA's International Designer of the Year in 2008, and more recently, he was decorated by Fashion Group International, the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT and the Flemish Royal Academy of Belgium.Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris mounted an exhibition in 2014 devoted to his designs and their influences, which later traveled to Antwerp.One source estimated the size of Van Noten’s business — which is focused mainly on ready-to-wear for women and men, and wholesale distribution — at under $100 million.The designer’s spring 2019 men’s rtw collection will be presented next week in Paris.Van Noten said in the statement Thursday: “I have been searching for a strong partner for the company, which I have built for more than 30 years. I am especially happy that Antwerp and my team will remain at the company’s heart and center. Our relationship with our customers is a cherished one and will only benefit from this enhanced vision.”With the purchase of Dries Van Noten, Puig is signaling a growing focus on fashion — and owned brands rather than licensed ones. At present, an estimated 90 percent of its 1.94 billion-euro business comes from fragrance and cosmetics.“Our entry today into the capital structure of Dries Van Noten proves yet again our strategic commitment to developing the Puig fashion business,” Marc Puig said.Puig’s last fashion purchase was in 2011, when it took a majority stake in Jean Paul Gaultier, which was added to other holdings such as Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci and Paco Rabanne.To be sure, Puig is not a bold mover in fashion, having only opened one boutique for Paco Rabanne, and having halted Gaultier’s rtw, leaving the Frenchman to focus on couture, beauty and special projects. Nina Ricci has struggled to make headway against Europe’s luxury behemoths amid creative upheaval and modest investments.In May, Ricci announced the departure of its creative director Guillaume Henry and the appointment of Charlotte Tasset as general manager fashion and fragrances. She was previously chief merchandising officer of women’s wear, lingerie, beauty and children’s wear at French department store chain Printemps, and has yet to name Henry’s successor.More recently, Puig has been more active in the fragrance and cosmetics realms, snapping up brands such as L’Artisan Parfumeur and Penhaligon’s.Van Noten doesn’t make fragrances, traditionally another cash cow for luxury brands, although his longstanding perfumer friend Frédéric Malle in 2013 did the first in his series of “portrait” scents with Van Noten, and selections of Malle’s perfumes, displayed on silver trays, are sold in many Van Noten boutiques.Malle said Puig is “buying an amazing asset. Dries is one of the rare, untouched, legitimate worlds — more than a brand — which is super coherent. And from that, if you’re clever, you can do very beautiful things.”Van Noten knows what his brand image is about, according to Malle, who added: “He knows exactly what he likes and doesn’t like. He would not have done something that was not perfectly coherent in his brand” when working on the perfume.“And I think in this world, which is overcrowded, the most coherent brands will be winning,” Malle said.Puig’s beauty business is a mix of owned and licensed brands, which includes Prada, Christian Louboutin and Comme des Garçons.In late May, L’Oréal announced the group had inked a license for Valentino fragrances and beauty products, which had been part of the Puig portfolio since 2010.Puig said in April that it aims to break past the three billion euro mark in sales by 2025.The Van Noten deal is the latest in a flurry of merger-and-acquisition activity in the designer and luxury business space. It comes just a few months after Chinese conglomerate Fosun International took control of French luxury house Lanvin, and Amsterdam-based private equity firm Sapinda Holdings bought luxe lingerie company La Perla.
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