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Equity Players Snap Up Samsonite and La Perla

Deep-pocketed private equity firms are set to scoop up two more luxury goods brands.

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Deep-pocketed private equity firms are set to scoop up two more luxury goods brands.

Italy’s lingerie and fashion group La Perla SpA and JH Partners LLC, based in San Francisco, said Thursday they had reached a preliminary agreement for the U.S. fund to buy a majority stake in La Perla from the company’s founders, the Masotti family.

Equity fund CVC Partners inked a deal Thursday to acquire the Samsonite Corp. for about $1.7 billion, or $1.49 a share, including the assumption of debt. CVC is buying the luggage and travel accessories company from a group of investors that includes Ares Management LLC and Bain Capital Partners LLC. The deal should close in the last quarter of the year, pending regulatory approval in the U.S. and Europe.

Neither a price range nor a time frame for the La Perla transaction was disclosed. Under the terms of the deal, Alberto Masotti will retain his title as chairman but hand over the role of chief executive officer to Jeff Hansen, the president of JH Partners. Masotti and his daughter, Anna Masotti, currently the company’s creative and design director, will retain seats on La Perla’s board, the companies said in a statement.

“JH Partners is happy to initiate a collaboration with Alberto Masotti and his family to forge additional growth of one of the most important luxury brands in the world,” Hansen said in the statement. The executive said international expansion and reinforcing the brand’s image were top priorities.

The equity fund focuses on consumer products and services, and its holdings include Italian linen brand Frette and fertilizer company Terracycle. Last month, JH acquired hair care brand Ouidad for an undisclosed sum.

Alberto Masotti said the deal highlighted the value of the La Perla brand and the uniqueness of its products.

“[The sale of the company] initiates a period of acceleration for the growth of our brands in all international luxury markets,” he said in the statement.

Company officials could not be reached for additional comment. JH Partners declined to comment beyond Thursday’s release.

La Perla, based in the northern Italian town of Bologna, is best known for its lingerie. But over the years, the Masotti family has expanded the brand into new areas. Alessandro Dell’Acqua, known for his boudoir aesthetic, has designed La Perla’s ready-to-wear collection since 2003, earning mixed reviews.

In February, Alberto Masotti told WWD the family-owned company had inked a pair of licensing agreements for accessories and footwear. La Perla is working with Finduck, parent of Mandarina Duck, for a handbag and small leather goods collection, and with footwear company Baldan to produce and distribute a La Perla shoe line.

La Perla has also branched out into eyewear, fragrances and even denim. But some of its expansion efforts have faltered. Last year, the company shut its money-losing retail venture Intimo 3, a chain of 120 stores.

Intimo 3 hit La Perla’s balance sheet, and the group posted a loss of 21 million euros, or $27.2 million at current exchange, in 2006. Last year, group sales reached 178.2 million euros, or $230.9 million. Masotti said in February that he hoped to reach breakeven in 2008.

Like La Perla, Samsonite has been busy boosting its fashion profile in a drive to become a lifestyle brand. Last year, the luggage and accessories firm inked deals for design collaborations with Alexander McQueen and Matthew Williamson for its Black Label line. The company also bought Lambertson Truex, opened a Samsonite Black Label store on Madison Avenue and introduced fashion handbags and footwear. Other products sold under the Samsonite brand include computer cases, furniture, umbrellas, school bags, travel accessories and children’s products.

Samsonite had net losses after the impact of an accounting change of $6.8 million on sales of $1.07 billion in the fiscal year ended Jan. 31. At the operating level, it had income of $79.9 million, up from $73 million the previous year. About 70 percent of the group’s sales come from the Samsonite brand; American Tourister contributes 15 percent, licensed products 13.4 percent, and the Black Label line 1.6 percent. According to the firm’s annual report, luggage is by far its largest product category, generating 66.8 percent of revenues.

In a statement, CVC said it was buying Samsonite because of the fragmented luggage sector’s long-term growth prospects, particularly in Asia. CVC also believes it can continue to move the brand upmarket to a luxury image, “making it highly suitable for an initial public offering at some later date.”

CVC also plans to consider “selective acquisitions” to expand the group in certain key regions. “China and India present particularly interesting opportunities for growth,” Hardy McLain and Luigi Lanari of CVC said in the statement.

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