NEW YORK — Elie Tahari and Triac may have some competition in their bidding for Barneys New York, according to a source familiar with the situation.
“There’s another potential player — and it’s another apparel maker,” said the source.
There reportedly are three or four bids for Barneys on the table this week, with some sources indicating a financial player has emerged as the strongest bidder. As previously reported, investment group Triac and the merchant banking group of Bear Stearns are said to be interested. Tahari, meanwhile, is said to be offering around $400 million for the fashion retailer.
An announcement from Barneys is imminent, either later this week or next, regarding granting a period of exclusivity to the top bidder. The exclusivity would enable the top bidder to dig deeper into Barneys and conduct a more thorough due diligence to make sure that there are no surprises about inventories, financials or stores buried in the company’s books. After a winning bid emerges, there is about a 90-day period to close the deal.
The source declined to disclose the identity of the late entry from the apparel world, but others speculated that Sportswear Holdings Ltd., which owns Michael Kors and is led by Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou, could be it. A spokeswoman for Stroll and Chou had no comment Tuesday.
Stroll and Chou reportedly want to be big factors in the luxury arena and may not be content with the rate of growth of another company they control, A&G Group, which owns Asprey and the jeweler Garrard. They also have their hands full with their Michael Kors brand, where there has been some dissatisfaction with the Michael Michael Kors launch this fall and some problems with fit and deliveries, though retailers remain upbeat about its potential down the road.
Stroll and Chou, through Sportswear Holdings Ltd., acquired an estimated 85 percent of the Michael Kors design house in 2003.
There’s also been speculation that others in the apparel world — Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Jones New York and Liz Claiborne — have at one point or another taken an interest in Barneys, but this week sources discounted any of those firms as bidders.The Hilfiger company has the wherewithal and the desire to tap deeper into the luxury market, but inside sources at the company stated Tuesday that Hilfiger is not bidding.
Another source said that while officials representing Ralph Lauren have examined Barneys’ books, it was really only as a matter of routine, and that Ralph Lauren is not in on the bidding. One reason could be that Lauren has been spending on other forms of expansion, including opening its own stores in different parts of the world. Also, a Barneys bid could have an adverse affect on the company’s stock.
Officials from Jones and Claiborne could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
There’s been enormous interest in what happens to Barneys, including from some former Barneys principals. Former Barneys co-chairman Gene Pressman, who has largely been sitting on the sidelines of the fashion industry since getting ousted from the retailer soon after it went bankrupt in 1996, has reportedly been in touch with Tahari about playing a role in the business. However, it would be a supporting one, not a leading role, something like creative director.
Barneys emerged from bankruptcy in January 1999 under the control of two vulture funds, Bay Harbour Management and Whippoorwill Associates. Pressman’s grandfather, Barney, founded Barneys as a men’s wear discounter. Gene Pressman is credited with expanding Barneys into women’s in the Eighties and into satellite locations, but high costs, some poor choices on locations and heavy borrowing took the company into bankruptcy.
Whippoorwill and Bay Harbour long have been trying to sell Barneys, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the luxury specialty store was formally put up for sale and the bidding process began.
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