PARIS--Jean Lecendreux, a retired executive of Sanofi SA, said Friday that he and a group of private investors have acquired the house of Pierre Balmain. That confirms a report appearing in these columns Oct. 6. Lecendreux confirmed that Oscar de la Renta, the designer for Balmain's couture and ready-to-wear collections, is coming to Paris this week to meet with Hivelin and discuss de la Renta's future with the house. Lecendreux, now the president of Balmain, would not disclose the financial terms of the transaction, in which his investment group G.F. Vendome bought 100 percent of the couture house. But he did say his group paid "way less" than the estimated $20 million former Balmain owner Erich Fayer paid in 1991 for control of the house two years after he had sold it to Alain Chevalier and his partners for $110 million (550 million francs). "The price we paid is in line with the kind of restructuring we will have to do," Lecendreux, 68, said, without outlining restructuring plans. Fayer, who died last April, acquired Balmain in 1986, four years after the death of the founding designer. Balmain marks the first foray into luxury goods for G.F. Vendome, whose diversified holdings in mainly semi-industrial companies, Lecendreux explained. The transaction was completed two weeks ago, he added. As reported, luxury goods packaging executive Alain Hivelin will remain managing director of the firm One of Hivelin's companies, Selecta, acquired the worldwide license for manufacture and distribution of Balmain fragrances last summer. Lecendreux and industry observers agree that the frequent changes of ownership in recent years have taken a toll on the fashion house. Some critics have said that buying Balmain is tantamount to "a wish to lose money." But Lecendreux, who was president of Sanofi Beaute in the 1980s, disagrees. "Some will say that it's too late to save Balmain. While it could be true that the Balmain image has been forgotten, particularly in France, it is not tarnished," he explained. "The name is very strong abroad, in the U.S., Latin America and in the Far East, shown by the successful sales of Balmain licensed goods and accessories," he added. Lecendreux noted that the perfume and the fashion business go hand in hand. "We can't do everything at once, and we don't have millions of francs to put on the table. But we want to reestablish the house's glory," he said.
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