NEW YORK--Lawrence S. Stroll, a key Tommy Hilfiger partner and chief strategist, is battling cancer. Stroll, 37, has undergone surgery and a series of chemotherapy treatments and is recuperating at his Montreal home, according to Hilfiger, director and honorary chairman of Tommy Hilfiger Corp. "It was a very dangerous operation. They think it can be cured," said Hilfiger. "He is recovering. It will take a while. It just happened four weeks ago." Stroll is a director of Hilfiger and group chief executive officer of Pepe Jeans London Corp., an affiliated company. Stroll has been instrumental in the phenomenal growth of Hilfiger's business. His primary role has been to plan all of Hilfiger's new ventures, including international distribution, which he knows well, having had a prior partnership in Europe with Polo/Ralph Lauren. "He [Stroll] and Silas Chou have been strategizing our entire future from a global viewpoint, including Japan, Central and South American and Europe," said Hilfiger. During Stroll's recuperation, Hilfiger said that he has made many trips to Montreal and that Stroll is constantly in touch by phone. "We're very optimistic thinkers in everything we do," said Hilfiger. "We're looking very positively at the future." The illness has had no immediate effect on the business, but it has led to the cancellation of a deal to back designer Victor Alfaro, who had been negotiating with Stroll and his partners for several months. "It was going to be Lawrence's pet project," said Hilfiger of the Alfaro plan. "There were commitments made that we were going to back him, but because Lawrence became ill, we thought it would not be appropriate. Whatever we do, we want to do very well and put 100 percent focus on it. Under the circumstances, that would be impossible." Stroll, who had originally intended to complete the deal with Alfaro last month, had reportedly given the verbal go-ahead to the designer to make a spring collection. Alfaro had made some major commitments to fabrics and personnel. "We did not mislead Victor in a malicious way. He was beginning to prepare his future lines, and we didn't think it was appropriate to walk away. We sent him a check for a few hundred thousand dollars Wednesday," said Hilfiger. "We felt badly we couldn't live up to our end, but nothing was signed. We had verbal discussions. We think Victor is a tremendous talent. We certainly don't want to turn our backs on him, and we gave him some seed money, not as a loan, but in the way of a gift," said Hilfiger. Though there are rumors that Alfaro is not entirely pleased with the payment, the designer downplayed any tension with the Hilfiger partners. Reached Thursday in Washington, Alfaro acknowledged his disappointment that the deal fell through, but said he was more concerned about Stroll's health. "I'm very fond of Lawrence Stroll. He's a great, great, great guy, and they're a very wonderful group of people. They're very honorable, and I'm sure the group will honor all the commitments we had together for the ongoing months." Alfaro said his entire spring collection is ready, and "I'm proceeding as planned." He said he has had to turn down offers over the last several months because he was in discussions with Stroll, and will now start exploring other opportunities. "I have other deals in the works," said Alfaro. Alfaro had been negotiating with Apparel Investments Holdings Ltd. (AIHL), Hilfiger's holding company. It is believed that Alfaro would have had a significant equity position in the business. Unlike Tommy Hilfiger Corp., AIHL does not trade publicly and is 70 percent owned by Stroll--who is also ceo of Tommy Hilfiger Far East, the buying arm of the Hilfiger business--and Silas K.F. Chou, Hilfiger Corp.'s chairman. Hilfiger owns a 22.5 percent stake in AIHL and Joel J. Horowitz, chief executive officer and president of Hilfiger Corp., owns 7.5 percent. For the year ended March 31, 1996, Hilfiger Corp.'s net revenues increased to $478.1 million from $321 million.
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