By  on December 22, 2000

MILAN -- After a bitter tug-of-war that lasted more than two years, Gianfranco Ferre and his former business partner, Franco Mattioli, agreed on Thursday to sell the fashion house they founded more than 20 years ago to Gruppo Tonino Perna, the parent of Italian fashion group IT Holding, for an undisclosed sum.

The agreement, further evidence of the rapid consolidation in the luxury sector, caps more than 30 months of wrangling between Ferre and Mattioli -- who could never agree on a buyer, and who stopped speaking to one another after Mattioli announced in June 1998 that he planned to retire and sell his 49 percent stake in the company.

The sale, managed by Chase Manhattan and the corporate finance boutique bank Aforge Finance, will be completed next month. Industry sources say GTP paid between $150 million and $175 million for its 90 percent stake in Gianfranco Ferre SpA.

"I am very happy to have concluded this deal with GTP," Ferre told WWD during an interview at his sprawling headquarters here. Ferre said he worked on the sale every night after dinner -- and on Sundays -- together with his management team. "I have always respected GTP for their consistent appreciation and support of my work. I chose them because they can offer me so much -- distribution, management, new projects."

Mattioli could not be reached for comment.

It also appears that GTP, which had been in talks with Ferre and Mattioli for about a year, made the designer one offer he couldn't refuse: a couture collection. As part of the deal, GTP will set up a couture atelier here with the first collection to be unveiled in Paris in 2002.

"I view the new collection as an adventure -- a very interesting proposal," said Ferre. "I already design made-to-measure clothing for clients such as Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Taylor, Oprah Winfrey and the Queen of Jordan, so this would be a continuation of that work."

Ferre launched his first couture collection in the late Eighties, before he left for Paris in 1989 to work as chief designer for Christian Dior.

Under the terms of the deal -- signed Thursday morning at a leather-covered conference table at Ferre's headquarters -- GTP will purchase a further 69 percent stake in Gianfranco Ferre SpA. Last December, GTP purchased a 21 percent stake from Mattioli and called it a "financial investment." Ferre, who will hold the remaining 10 percent of the house, will remain creative director of the company and chairman of the board.

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