By  on November 17, 2009

PARIS — The Ajman sheikh who seemed poised to rescue couturier Christian Lacroix from bankruptcy did not submit financing guarantees ahead of a crucial hearing at the commercial court here Tuesday.

The question mark hanging over the sheikh’s means — and the withdrawal of another potential suitor, Financière Saint-Germain — seemed to narrow options for the troubled fashion house and its acclaimed designer. Italy’s Borletti Group, parent of Printemps and La Rinascente department stores, already withdrew from the process in September.

A judge is to rule on Lacroix’s future Dec. 1, which is seen as a final deadline for potential suitors to produce proof of funding for their relaunch plans.

“We are still hopeful that any of the plans can be finalized. The Ajman offer remains our preference,” said Nicolas Topiol, Lacroix’s chief executive officer.

“I remain confident in the sheik’s will,” Lacroix said.

Louis Petiet, head of French turnaround specialist Bernard Krief Consulting, told WWD he had signed an agreement with Lacroix’s owners, Florida’s Falic Group, that could see the two firms team up on licensing. He said that scenario would give Krief control over couture, ready-to-wear and jewelry, and calls for a rollout of up to 200 boutiques in five years. “It’s almost impossible to be a player in fashion with three shops,” he said, noting Krief has invited the designer to “be the creative leader of this new company,” but without an equity stake.

Lacroix could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the Falics have tabled a restructuring plan that would see the workforce cut to about a dozen from some 110 employees, reducing the 22-year-old fashion house to a licensing operation.

The Paris administrator had recently suggested the sheikh’s offer would “likely” meet approval of the court because it would preserve jobs and pay third-party debts. The sheikh’s legal representatives did not return phone calls Tuesday.

Christian Lacroix SNC filed for court protection from its creditors in May, reflecting the vulnerability of wholesale-dependent brands amid the sharp downturn in luxury spending.

Falic Group had initiated an upscaling drive at Lacroix that coincided with the global economic crisis, and a steep drop in sales drove the company deeply into the red. Losses at Lacroix ballooned to about 10 million euros, or $14 million at current exchange, on revenues that have shriveled to an estimated 30 million euros, or $42 million.

Best known for its Duty Free Americas chain, Falic Group acquired Lacroix in 2005 from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which launched a couture house for Lacroix in 1987.

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