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Gibo Plants Flag in Footwear

Italian manufacturer Gibo Co. SpA has taken a 60 percent stake in footwear producer Iris for an undisclosed sum.

MILAN — Italian manufacturer Gibo Co. SpA has taken a 60 percent stake in footwear producer Iris for an undisclosed sum.

Iris produces shoe collections under license for Marc Jacobs, Chloe, Veronique Branquinho, Proenza Schouler, Viktor & Rolf and John Galliano.

In an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Gibo chairman Franco Pene also said the company has decided to terminate the Gibo line of ready-to-wear.

“We launched Gibo to experience private labeling and retailing, but now that Onward Kashiyama has acquired Joseph, our focus has shifted on this brand and its 63 sales points,” said Pene.

Last month the Tokyo-based fashion manufacturer, retailer and distributor Onward Kashiyama, which has a stake in Gibo, acquired U.K. retailer and apparel brand Joseph for about $258 million. Pene said he plans to position Joseph in the same price segment as Burberry and cover similar products. Burberry’s products include women’s and men’s rtw, outerwear and accessories.

The Gibo line was launched for spring 2003, designed by artist Julie Verhoeven. Last year, Gibo tapped Japanese designer Ichiro Seta as the new creative director of the collection in an effort to make it more commercial. Seta’s first collection launched for spring 2005 during Milan Fashion Week. The last Gibo collection was produced for this fall.

Pene said the Milan Gibo store will be closed and will reopen in a few months as an Iris boutique, where all the collections produced by the footwear company will be available. There is an existing Iris boutique in Paris.

Pene, who is not focused on purchasing brands per se but in complementing his company’s manufacturing know-how, said he has no plans to change the status quo at Iris and insisted owner Giuseppe Baiardo will remain with the company. Just as he did last year when Gibo took control of knitwear company Maglificio Erika, Pene said he wants to keep Iris’ knowledge and human resources.

“We want to grow a production and commercial pole that will range from clothing to footwear and accessories,” said Pene, hinting at a possible acquisition at some point of a handbag manufacturer.

“Iris is the photocopy of Gibo, with a history pretty much identical to ours. Iris works in the high-end niche, its essence is similar to ours and it has a history of excellence. I will not touch the structure of the company but will improve the financial organization and bring our fashion experience. We plan to grow together,” said Pene.

In addition to the production of Paul Smith, Gibo makes and distributes the women’s collections for Antonio Berardi, Michael Kors and Project Alabama; the men’s collections for Marc Jacobs and Joseph, and both divisions for Viktor & Rolf and Hussein Chalayan. Gibo also makes the new men’s line for John Galliano, launched for spring 2004. Pene said he will not change or interfere with the relationships between Iris and the other fashion companies it works with.

Iris reported sales of 17 million euros, or $20.4 million at current exchange rates, last year and plans to close 2005 with sales of 26 million euros, or $31.2 million. Based in Fiesso D’Artico, in the Riviera del Brenta area known for the production of footwear, Iris has 180 employees.

Gibo, based outside Florence, will report sales of 50 million euros, or $60 million, in 2005, in line with last year.

Pene, who is one of the few fashion executives who did not envision 2004 as a turnaround year after the post-Sept. 11 downturn, expressed optimism for the future.

“The worst is behind us and 2006 will be the year sales will eventually pick up, with a really positive 2007,” he said.