FRENCH INVESTORS OFFER REVIVAL PLAN FOR BIDERMANN SA

Byline: Katherine Weisman and Sophie D'Aulnay

PARIS--A French investor group has presented a formal offer to rescue troubled Bidermann SA via a company reorganization and debt refinancing plan.
Group leaders Alain Némarcq, current president of the Tehen knitwear group and a former managing director of Bidermann SA, and Leo Gros, the founder of Montagut, a French ready-to-wear manufacturer, have submitted under their own names a restructuring plan that just may satisfy majority shareholder Maurice Bidermann, his creditors, and the government branches required to approve any reorganization plans.
Némarcq declined to comment on the extent of his investor group's bid, but confirmed, "we have made an offer," adding that a response may come as early as next week.
Bidermann SA is the holding company that controls Bidermann International, an operating company whose two principal apparel subsidiaries are Bidermann Industries in the U.S. and Bidermann Europe. The operations are primarily in men's wear, but Bidermann Industries for years has held the license for Ralph Lauren Womenswear.
Bidermann SA is 87 percent owned by chairman Maurice Bidermann, with French petrochemical giant Elf Acquitaine holding the other 13 percent. Throughout the year, there has been speculation in the industry as well as in the French press that all of Bidermann SA, or individual pieces of Bidermann International, might be sold to help reduce Bidermann's debt load.
Last year, Bidermann's debt totaled $172 million, primarily stemming from the firm's 1990 acquisition of U.S. shirt and hosiery maker Cluett, Peabody, which owns the Arrow and Gold Toe brands.
At one point, men's private label chain Celio was interested in Bidermann's Armand Thierry private label men's wear stores--mainly for the real estate--but Celio ended discussions last month. Other rumored bidders have included Lucien Deveaux, president of Deveaux, a textile manufacturer here.
Last fall, Loik le Floch-Prigent, chairman of Elf Acquitaine, had expressed interest in selling the company's 13 percent stake in Bidermann SA as part of a strategy to focus Elf on its core activities, but no transactions have been announced to date.

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