LONDON — Jimmy Choo is growing up.

Last Tuesday, the designer shoe brand, acquired last year by the privately held Equinox Luxury Holdings Ltd., began its retail rollout at Harvey Nichols with a party to celebrate its first new-generation concession there.

Equinox, which owns a 51 percent stake in Jimmy Choo, plans to invest $5 million to $6 million in 15 freestanding stores over two years. In addition, Jimmy Choo plans to launch a complete handbag collection for fall 2003.

Robert Bensoussan, chairman and chief executive officer of Equinox and ceo of Jimmy Choo Ltd., said he was confident about the future of the brand, despite the hard times for luxury goods.

"First, when you have a good product, it sells, no matter what," Bensoussan said. "Second, Jimmy Choo cannot be compared to the big luxury brands. There is still a lot of room for growth…and I think there are good days ahead for this industry."

While Bensoussan declined to give specific sales projections, he said he expected 2002 sales to rise 23 percent year-on-year and EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — to grow about 50 percent. Sales last year exceeded $18 million. In 2003, Bensoussan is projecting a sales increase of "at least 50 percent."

Currently, about 45 percent of Jimmy Choo’s business is generated in the U.S. The U.K. accounts for about 15 percent, while the rest of Europe and Asia comprise the remaining 40 percent. The company has 150 wholesale accounts worldwide, including Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bensoussan said that number will "probably not go beyond 200" in the next few years.

The new store and shop-in-shop concept was designed by the Milan-based architect Tiziano Vudafieri. Tamara Mellon, the president of Jimmy Choo whose family retains the balance of the company’s shares, said she wanted the new retail spaces to conjure the mood of a boudoir and a modern couture house.

"It’s the opposite of masculine, minimalist black. It’s very feminine," she said. "The feeling is very Forties, with satin, velvet and mirrors."

There are currently four Jimmy Choo stores: New York, London, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas. Plans are to open freestanding stores in Miami, Orlando, and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., this fall. In the first half of next year, it plans to open another store in London, a second New York store on Madison Avenue, as well as units in Paris, Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago and Short Hills, N.J.There are also plans for a new space in Beverly Hills to replace the current boutique there. All stores will have an average size of 1,500 square feet and will be operated by Jimmy Choo. Bensoussan said the company is also looking to open two or three franchises in the Middle East and Moscow and stores in Hong Kong and Taiwan by the end of next year.

"We are also looking to open in Tokyo for fall 2003," Bensoussan said.

In addition to its retail expansion, the company is seeking to build the evening and day bag classification, which currently represents about 5 to 10 percent of Jimmy Choo’s sales. The bags are displayed with the shoes at the new Harvey Nichols space and are considered an "add-on" to the shoe collection.

"We want to make bags a separate, stand-alone product category, similar to what Tod’s has done," Bensoussan said. "We really want to make a statement with them."

Bensoussan added that the bags would be sold under the Jimmy Choo London label and that the goal was for them to generate 30 to 35 percent of company sales in the next few years.

Also, the firm is retooling its marketing, having unveiled its first ad campaign under the new management. The campaign was shot by Helmut Newton and broke in this month’s issues of fashion publications such as W; French, Italian and British Vogue, and Harpers & Queen.

Prices range from about $375 for a pair of summer sandals to about $3,000 for a pair of crocodile boots.

As reported, Equinox is the new fashion arm of Phoenix Equity Partners, a London-based private equity fund manager that focuses on mid-market U.K. businesses valued at between $30 million and $300 million. Its target investments are between $15 million and $70 million.

It ultimately plans to acquire majority stakes in up to four other family owned, European luxury concerns in four categories: accessories, ready-to-wear, beauty and jewelry and watches. Bensoussan, through his investment firm Sirius Partners, is also a shareholder in Equinox.

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