Sergio Rossi

MILAN — The footwear M&A scene is heating up.

According to market sources, a Sergio Rossi dossier has landed on the desk of potential investors. Likewise, Giuseppe Zanotti and Aquazzura are said to be being shopped around.

Shoes and sneakers continue to be a driving category for many luxury brands. According to the Worldwide Luxury Market Monitor released in November by Bain & Co. and Fondazione Altagamma, shoes were the best-performing category in 2020, less hard hit than watches and apparel, with sales declining 12 percent last year to 19 billion euros.

As reported earlier this week, CVC and Permira are said to be circling Birkenstock, weighing a potentially 4 billion euro acquisition of the famed sandal-maker, and British footwear brand Dr. Martens is planning to launch an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange. Dr. Martens is owned by IngreLux, a Luxembourg-based company owned by funds advised by Permira.

Designer Giuseppe Zanotti denied he has any plans to sell the shares he owns in his namesake company. However, sources contend that L Catterton may be the one eyeing an exit. In 2014, L Catterton — at the time L Capital Management and L Capital Asia — took a 30 percent stake in the Zanotti brand. L Catterton was formed in 2016 when Catterton, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Groupe Arnault came together in a partnership. The investment house’s wide-ranging holdings also include Pepe Jeans, John Hardy and Dondup, to name a few.

“I am always open to listen to those that approach me [with offers], but the current global scenario is not the best and I don’t think it would be strategic to sell now,” said Zanotti, who is known for his feminine and sexy designs and a favorite with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Taylor Swift, to name a few.

In December, the designer revealed he signed a licensing agreement with Alexandre Vauthier for the design, production and distribution of the French label’s footwear collections.

A Sergio Rossi sale, on the other hand, would make sense now, according to a market source. Chief executive officer Riccardo Sciutto has succeeded in reorganizing the company, modernizing the manufacturing plant in Italy’s San Mauro Pascoli, a key footwear district, and giving a precise identity to the product in sync with the late namesake founder of the brand. Also a return to the origins of the company — when Sergio Rossi produced for the likes of Azzedine Alaïa, VersaceMoschino, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta — Sciutto has inked new manufacturing agreements with other brands.

“The latest are Bottega Veneta and Amina Muaddi for spring,” the source said. “The brand has a strong presence in China and Japan. It’s in a solid position, despite the forced store closures due to the pandemic and the timing of a sale would be entirely in line with an investment fund’s logic.”

The source saw opportunities for Investindustrial, which exited its Aston Martin investment last October, contending that an industrial partner “that is not pressed for time” would be the right fit for Sergio Rossi, following the example of the Moncler acquisition of Stone Island. “Sergio Rossi is a small business for Investindustrial and they may not want to wait until the pandemic is over,” concluded the source.

European investment house Investindustrial took full control of the Sergio Rossi company in December 2015 from Kering. Sciutto joined the company in February 2016 from Hogan.

Rumors about a possible sale of Aquazzura have also been circulating. Sources say discussions with Style Capital broke down in September. Style Capital’s investments include MSGM, women’s wear brand Forte_Forte, and  California-based denim brand Re/Done.

The Florence-based brand, founded by Edgardo Osorio in 2011, in October said it was introducing the Aquazzura Casa home collection, making its debut with a tableware collection, and has been expanding with a store in Capri last year and a jewelry collection with Turkish jeweler Begum Khan in 2019.

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