NEW YORK — Will a Calvin Klein deal actually happen this time?
Calvin Klein Inc. continued to avoid comment Thursday about a new round of rumors that the designer business was back on the block, yet more names of potential suitors surfaced —from Kellwood Co. to the financial duo of Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou — in addition to the already-mentioned Phillips-Van Heusen and VF Corp.
What’s more, sources said Klein has retained corporate lawyer Allen Grubman — that’s Lizzie’s dad — to entertain offers.
As reported in WWD on Thursday, sources have indicated that Calvin Klein Inc. has reopened talks regarding the future of the company. These could include potential moves in relation to its licensees, including those held by the bankrupt Warnaco Group, or an outright sale of CKI. After an earlier bid to sell the company failed to reach a conclusion in 2000, the designer himself has since denied any further interest in selling the business.
But buyers’ interests have suddenly picked up again. Certain suitors are said to be interested in both the Calvin Klein designer business and its licensees, while others are talking about the prospect of buying only the Warnaco properties. While many companies — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Gucci Group, Tommy Hilfiger, Warnaco, Dickson Poon, Liz Claiborne and Jones Apparel Group — took a look at CKI during the first round of sales, round two has peaked interest from a diversified group of mostly mid-tier American apparel companies.
Regardless of what kind of deal is in the works, it’s bound to be complicated, involving two business partners — Klein himself and Barry Schwartz, each of whom own 43 percent of CKI; a bankrupt Warnaco, and, if they are interested, a beauty license held by the Anglo-Dutch Unilever, which, as reported, is also said to be interested in selling Calvin Klein Cosmetics. Getting all the deals to progress at the same speed would be a challenging juggling act, but one that could result in a consolidated Calvin Klein Inc., at last. One of the stumbling blocks to the previous sale of CKI was all the constituent parties involved.
Warnaco’s Calvin Klein jeans and underwear businesses had combined sales of $539 million last year, a huge decline from $800 million in 2000, while Calvin Klein Cosmetics has estimated sales of $600 million to $700 million annually, again a drop from its peak. CKI’s designer women’s and men’s wear businesses have estimated sales of $30 million to $50 million a year.
And interest in the company this time around appears to be fast and furious, which could break out into a bidding war for Calvin’s brands.
PVH, for instance, is aggressively looking for growth opportunities and could be interested in furthering its relationship with Klein, considering the company already manufacturers men’s Calvin Klein shirts. Kellwood, too, has a core group of moderate and better sportswear brands like Sag Harbor, Kathie Lee, Koret and David Meister, and executives have said it is looking for a branded men’s wear line as a point of possible expansion. Plus, Kellwood hired former Donna Karan and Pegasus executive Stephen Ruzow as president of women’s wear a year ago, giving it some expertise in the designer arena. (Kellwood and PVH also teamed up this week on a major license for PVH’s Izod brand, which is planned to grow into a $1 billion moderate women’s sportswear business.)
As reported, Stroll and Chou, who have announced their resignations as chairmen of Tommy Hilfiger Corp., have actively been looking at acquisitions for several years and previously pursued Calvin Klein, as well as Brooks Brothers and Valentino. Even though they are focused on developing the recently acquired Asprey and Garrard brands, sources said on Thursday the duo are once again involved in talks with Klein. They were among the most aggressive suitors of CKI during the earlier round of negotiations, although their reported bid of $900 million was ultimately denied. Klein and Schwartz were said to be asking for $1 billion.
Stroll and Chou could not be reached at press time and Kellwood executives did not return calls seeking comment.
A PVH official declined comment on the rumors that the company was interested in buying CKI, and a spokeswoman for Greensboro, N.C.-based VF Corp. on Thursday declined to comment specifically on the matter, but added, “We remain interested in acquisitions in the jeans, intimates and outdoor areas.”
She also said the firm is on the lookout for a “lifestyle brand that would cross multiple product categories.” She described the company’s current approach to acquisitions as “aggressive.”
VF’s interest in the Calvin Klein brand has been the subject of intense speculation for some time. Last fall, the company revealed it was looking at acquisitions that chairman and chief executive Mackey McDonald said “would fall into the lifestyle-brand category.” He said at that time the company was looking for brands with annual revenues of $250 million to $500 million, but would go higher for the right opportunity.
He also said the company was interested in the Calvin Klein jeans and innerwear lines licensed to Warnaco Group, calling them “good, solid brand names.”
As for Dickson Poon, Chuck Jayson, president and chief executive officer of Dickson Concepts said, “It’s our company policy not to comment on potential acquisitions. Our acquisition criteria continues to focus on upscale and/or luxury lifestyle brands whereby we feel we can add value from our existing international network.”