By  on June 14, 2011

NEW YORK — Labelux Group plans to grow Belstaff, its latest acquisition, with the help of two high-profile American executives: Harry Slatkin and Tommy Hilfiger.

Slatkin and Hilfiger — who are friends and have known each other for 15 years — have each invested in the English outerwear label, and as part of the deal, Slatkin assumes the role of Belstaff’s chief executive officer, while Hilfiger will serve as a business consultant and member of Belstaff’s advisory team and board.

The size of their investments could not be learned, though it is understood Labelux holds a majority stake in the brand, which was founded in 1924 with waxed cotton clothes for the motorcycling industry.

Slatkin, the founder of home fragrance brand Slatkin & Co., will spearhead the new owner’s plan to transform Belstaff into “a powerhouse lifestyle brand that will sit among the top luxury lifestyle brands,” he said, during an exclusive interview with Hilfiger and Labelux ceo Reinhard Mieck at Slatkin’s Upper East Side town house here on Monday.

Teaming with Hilfiger was a natural evolution of their friendship, Slatkin added, calling the designer for “sage advice” during the various stages of his career, from selling his home fragrance company to Limited Brands Inc. in 2005 to his more recent search for a brand he could invest in. “I wanted a lifestyle brand,” Slatkin said. “I started talking to Tommy, who was just selling his company, and he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if, after all these years, we could figure out a way of somehow working together?’ That’s really how our quest for a brand started.”

Slatkin narrowed his research of potential brands down to a list with Belstaff at the top. “I wanted an English lifestyle brand,” he said, admitting a fascination with English aristocracy. “I have always been intrigued by the lifestyle, the heritage, and the casualness with which they carry it. I was looking for the authenticity of a true English brand.”

In April, Hilfiger met with Peter Harf, chairman and ceo of Joh. A. Benckiser GmbH, which owns Labelux, in New York, who told him the group was already bidding on Belstaff — but suggested they team to steer Belstaff’s future.

“I have been wearing Belstaff for a long time,” Hilfiger noted. “I thought that it would certainly be successful with a partner like Labelux and Harry as ceo. There are a lot of great ingredients. You have an exciting heritage brand. You have a product that will evolve but with a built-in cool factor already.”

That said, Hilfiger stressed that the Hilfiger brand will continue to be his “first priority,” and there are no plans to use his fashion profile to market Belstaff.

Mieck called Belstaff “the perfect fit” for Labelux. “When Labelux was established in 2007, our vision was to build a new, significant global player in luxury goods,” he noted. “From the outset, we said that accessories, including leather goods, luxury fashion and jewelry are the core categories we are interested in. Belstaff is leather, it’s jackets, and shoes and bags. From a pure product category standpoint, it fits exactly what we are after.

“There are also real legendary people associated with the brand, like Steve McQueen, Che Guevara and Amelia Earhart. They loved and wore Belstaff. It’s very authentic with a true heritage and nothing needs to be invented. It’s all there,” said Mieck.

The Swiss luxury group, which disclosed its Belstaff acquisition last Thursday, has been building a portfolio of brands that now consists of Jimmy Choo, Bally, Derek Lam, Solange Azagury-Partridge and Zagliani. Explaining Labelux’s acquisition strategy, he said, “We are a family company. We don’t need to report quarterly results. We don’t want to sell anything going forward. We have brands we want to build for the long run. We can take our time to buy the right things.”

He called Jimmy Choo and Belstaff— the group’s two most recent acquisitions — “fantastic jewels with enormous potential.”

“It might well be that we don’t find another jewel in the next year or so but we can take our time and get it right,” he added. “If we find two great ones in a year, we go for it, but if we find none, that is also fine. We can build on what we already have. There is so much opportunity in those brands that there is really no hurry.”

Slatkin, who will continue to serve as the ambassador for the Slatkin & Co. brand, said Belstaff will be headquartered in New York, although the company will maintain its facilities outside of Venice for product development, support and production. It will also operate offices and a showroom in London that will reinforce the brand’s English heritage.

Franco Malenotti, the brand’s previous owner and creative director, will continue to consult on the brand for the foreseeable future, though his two sons Manuele and Michele are no longer involved.

Slatkin is putting together a team and has already zeroed in on a designer, though he wouldn’t disclose the name other than to say that it was someone “well-respected in the industry.” “Fall 2012 is when we are hoping to reestablish this brand as a luxury lifestyle brand,” he said.

Slatkin said that the first order of the day is to explore the company archives, using the brand’s DNA to “perfect our outerwear business, and then add other categories that will complete Belstaff as a full lifestyle brand. We then want to expand the distribution.”

To date, 95 percent of Belstaff’s sales are in Europe, and the brand operates 10 freestanding stores, though none are in the U.S.

“From an investment standpoint, it’s fantastic for us, because we can roll it out around the world,” Mieck said. “And with the rich heritage, it has all the opportunities to develop into a full-fledged lifestyle brand.”

Slatkin used a royal visual to crystallize his vision for Belstaff, referencing the moment Prince William and Catherine Middleton left Buckingham Palace after their wedding behind the wheel of a vintage Aston Martin. “The way they drove off into their future at the wheel of the Aston Martin shows a new lifestyle today, one of having their destiny in their own hands,” Slatkin said. “Luxury can be modern and young and a part of everyone’s dream.”

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