By  on April 27, 2007

PARIS — Hedi Slimane, who recently parted ways with Dior Homme, could have as much trouble finding a backer for a signature brand as some men had shimmying into his trim suits and jeans.

Ditto for a host of other well-known and accomplished designers, said to be exploring the launch of their own houses, from ex-Chloé designer Phoebe Philo and Lars Nilsson in Europe to Patrick Robinson in the United States. Even the reclusive Jil Sander is said to be itching to get back into the business and is putting out feelers for financing.

But there are few financial entities targeting start-ups, and available money, while plentiful, typically comes with plenty of strings attached, observers said.

"There is no clearly defined investors' universe for new designer brands," said Pierre Mallevays, founder and managing partner of Savigny Partners, a luxury goods advisory and mergers and acquisitions firm in London. "Luxury conglomerates need to focus on their big brands, private equity funds want established businesses and most hedge funds want sizeable deals."

What's more, strong-willed designers are often very demanding about creative control and can be blasé about secondary lines, accessories and licensing — cash cows upon which many investors insist.

Observers said designers looking to launch a brand typically require a minimum initial investment of $5 million, with a second round of financing in 18 months to two years in the $10 million to $15 million range.

Designers accustomed to working in large organizations with budgets for advertising and lots of creature comforts may need to rein in expectations. Demands for heavily staffed design studios, cars, drivers and other perks are looked upon dimly by investors, who have their eyes firmly on the bottom line.

Slimane, who exited Dior Homme last month and was succeeded by Kris van Assche, had been in talks to renew his contract and launch a signature fashion house, backed by an investment by Dior believed to be in the neighborhood of $50 million.

According to sources, doing a signature brand is only one option Slimane is considering in his post-Dior career, but he is confident in finding ready partners. "Hedi is totally free today to go anywhere he wants," said one source close to the designer. It is understood Slimane has already been approached by retailers interested in carrying exclusive designs by him, although no deals are imminent.

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