NEW YORK — Is Narciso Rodriguez the latest designer to hang out a “For Sale” sign?
According to sources, Rodriguez, a two-time winner of the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year award, has been talking to companies and industry executives about ways to expand his fledgling business, which sources estimate generates between $15 million and $20 million in sales.
A spokesman for Rodriguez said the designer had no comment. However, he added, “There are many possibilities, but nothing is set. He is in a growth mode and is looking at how the business is going to keep growing.”
Widely recognized for his expert tailoring, sleek designs and innate sense of glamour, Rodriguez’s signature collections have been critically acclaimed the past few seasons. Earlier he was the designer of Loewe, an LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned leather-goods company based in Madrid. He severed his ties with LVMH in October 2001 and negotiated a production plan with Aeffe for his signature line that allowed him to spend more time in New York, where he set up a sample room.
However, sources indicated Rodriguez hasn’t been completely satisfied with the way Aeffe has handled the business and the money he’s making, and has been talking to companies about new opportunities to expand the business for months now.
Rodriguez’s spokesman denied that the designer was unhappy with Aeffe. “We are quite pleased with the quality of product and service that we are receiving from Aeffe and they remain an integral part of our present plans,” he said. “We are also quite gratified at the number of inquiries we have received during recent months and days from numerous sources inquiring about opportunities to participate in our business, and we would be foolish to ignore such interest from the well-capitalized and well-respected people and companies who have been calling. Our present plans in that regard, however, remain quite open.”
Bruce Klatsky, chairman and chief executive officer of Phillips-Van Heusen, said he was aware that Rodriguez has been trying to sell his business, but was taking a pass on it.
“I respect him enormously, but we have a full plate right now,” said Klatsky, whose company bought Calvin Klein Inc. last December. Rumors had been circulating that CKI was in discussions with Rodriguez about taking over as head of Calvin Klein design, but Klatsky dismissed them. “There’s no truth to that — zero,” he said on Wednesday.Tommy Hilfiger, honorary chairman of Tommy Hilfiger Corp., also has stated his company’s intentions to make an acquisition, but the designer said Wednesday he’s only met Rodriguez once in his life and that was last week at a CFDA/Vogue event. “He’s a great guy and he’s very talented. I would consider speaking to him,” said Hilfiger.
In addition, he said, “We will continually look and if something is the right fit, it’s the right fit. We don’t have any definite plans at this point.”
Industry veteran Stuart Kreisler, whose name emerged as having spoken to Rodriguez about investing in the business, said he had “no comment.”
Lawrence Stroll, whose Sportswear Holdings Ltd. bought 85 percent of Michael Kors LLC last January, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. But Stroll has made no secret of his and partner Silas Chou’s desire to acquire more designer brands.
“He seems all of a sudden to have become the darling of everyone again,” said Harry Bernard, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Colton Bernard Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting firm. “I think he’s got a very refreshing way of doing things. I think he can be very successful if he had a disciplined organization, and he was able to focus on what he’s all about. It’s tough today. Everyone wants to get into the game, and it’s very crowded already.”
Andrew Jassin, managing director of Jassin O’Rourke, a management consulting firm, said he had a meeting last May with Rodriguez’s attorney about launching a secondary collection that could be expandable, but nothing came of it.
“He’s clearly a major, well-known design figure,” said Jassin. He believes Rodriguez would need a manufacturing partner, as well as the “proper organization and capital for marketing, positioning and the hiring of the right people.”
Rodriguez, a New Jersey-born Cuban American, earlier worked at Anne Klein under Donna Karan and later at Calvin Klein. The Narciso Rodriguez women’s collection debuted in Milan for spring 1998. He is perhaps best known as the designer of Carolyn Bessette’s wedding dress, a bias-cut pearl silk crepe with subtle draping in front and back. Rodriguez, who was close friends with Bessette, designed her dress while working at Cerruti’s atelier.This fall, Beauté Prestige International, a unit of Shiseido, launched Rodriguez’s first fragrance,Narciso Rodriguez for Her. Distribution is being rolled out around the world in two flights, with the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Spain this fall, and in 2004, the rest of Europe, South America, the Middle East and possibly a few doors in Asia. In the U.S., Saks Fifth Avenue was given a one-year exclusive.
“The Narciso fragrance is currently number one in our stores,” said a Saks Fifth Avenue spokeswoman. It was launched in New York on Sept. 3 and rolled out to all stores over the past few weeks. Industry sources estimate Saks will do more than $2 million in sales with the fragrance this fall. “The customers love the scent and the bottle and everything about it,” she said. “It’s really reaching a new customer outside of Rodriguez’s ready-to-wear customer.”
The designer also has a footwear collection and several freestanding stores in Asia and Italy.
Before winning his second Womenswear Designer of the Year award in June, Rodriguez told WWD, “Right now, I’m focused on the women’s collection and growth of that business, but I’m also eager to start working on men’s wear. There’s so much to do.”
Given his past experience with LVMH, whether Rodriguez would sell out to a conglomerate is debatable. He may be more likely to bring in new investors.
In an interview last year, Rodriguez said, “It’s really difficult if you don’t have a big company behind you for any designer today. It works better for me if my focus is on my collection, making sure that everything that goes on out there — costs, shoes, dresses — is cohesive. That’s what I need to be fulfilled in this. When it’s too much about a big shoe line and not just a shoe is when it becomes a little soulless to me.”
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