By and  on March 29, 2010

Huit Diffusion, owner of the Barbara and Huit lingerie and swimwear brands, has filed for the equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in France.

The company said it is seeking new investment partners. In February, it cited a drop in sales and reduced cash flow after its 2009 acquisition of Barbara, another privately owned brand, for an undisclosed sum.

A spokesman for the Rennes, France-based firm, which was founded 40 years ago, confirmed the company is being monitored by the commercial court in Rennes. He would not comment on plans to emerge from bankruptcy or discuss Huit’s annual wholesale and retail volume, which in 2008 was estimated in press reports to total 30 million euros, or $44 million at average exchange rates for the period. Huit Diffusion is owned by the company’s chief executive officer, Robert Le Forestier.

“They are definitely looking for a buyer or investment partners,” said Marie-Laure Bellon-Homps, ceo of Eurovet, the trade show organizer that stages the Salon International de la Lingerie and the Mode City lingerie and textile fairs in Paris. “Huit is a very strong and respected brand and it’s been around a long time.”

Huit, which has a contemporary urban vibe, is distributed in 1,750 doors of high-end specialty boutiques and chains as well as department stores worldwide. It also owns two stores, in St. Malo, France, and in Singapore. The Huit brand has 31 distributors worldwide.

Barbara, which is more of a traditional midrange corsetry and bra brand, is sold at 2,000 department and specialty stores internationally.

The Huit brand entered the U.S. market in 2000 and is sold at Nordstrom, as well as in more than 300 specialty boutiques. Bras retail between $75 and $99, and coordinating undies are priced from $30 to $55. Swimwear averages $140 for one-piece and two-piece sets, said a spokeswoman at Huit’s U.S. division.

The company’s financial problems have not affected deliveries, which are “on schedule,” the spokeswoman said.

Officials at Nordstrom could not be reached. However, several specialty retailers said they were having a problem with deliveries from Huit.

“We had no idea [about the bankruptcy],” said Claire Chambers, ceo of the two-unit specialty store Journelle, with stores in New York and Miami. “We carry Huit and rely on it for our fashion lineup. Our March fashion deliveries have not arrived and a February delivery was severely short-shipped.”

Rebecca Apsan, owner of La Petite Coquette, a lingerie boutique in Manhattan, said, “I’m shocked. No one told us. All of our fashion spring orders were a month and a half late, several other orders never arrived, and all of our fall orders have been pushed to a later delivery. I have no clue when we’ll receive fall deliveries.”

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