Why save a company from sure bankruptcy?
The efforts and investments required to right a troubled firm’s wrongs seem to make perfect sense when one examines a La Perla filigree embroidery with gold threads, or a Richard Ginori hand-painted porcelain — two brands that were not only rescued, but also given an opportunity to grow.
The exquisite craftsmanship needed to execute these products is rarely replicable and takes years of patient training to master.
“Even in their darkest moments, La Perla’s seamstresses were trying to stay on until the end,” explained Nick Tacchi, global marketing director of the luxury Bologna-based lingerie innerwear and swimwear firm. “They felt tied to one of the few companies that allowed them to exercise this art, the research and workmanship that is at the base of the brand’s sartorial tradition.”
San Francisco-based private equity fund JH Partners LLC had taken full control of La Perla from the founding Masotti family in 2008. The luxury innerwear company was struggling and had 140 employees on government-funded leave until it became part of telecommunications entrepreneur Silvio Scaglia’s portfolio, following an auction at the court of Bologna in 2013.
Pacific Global Management, which also owns the Elite World network of modeling agencies, secured the company for 69 million euros ($78.2 million at current exchange), and rehired all the employees.
Tacchi said Pacific expected to invest 100 million euros, ($113.4 million) in the first three years, but that this amount “was surpassed after seven months.”
Production remains in Bologna, and Italian craftsmanship is a must for the brand, founded in 1954 by Ada Masotti, and led by her son Alberto Masotti until the sale to JH Partners. Under Pacific Global Management, La Perla is successfully expanding globally, leveraging an even more luxurious product. Case in point: the brand presented its new Atelier Collection in January during Paris Couture Week.
Safeguarding the Richard Ginori brand, the skills and qualifications of its workers was in line with Gucci’s long-standing attention to the territory, explained Micaela le Divelec, Gucci’s executive vice president and chief corporate operations officer.
In April 2013, Gucci took control of the tableware and ceramics brand, which had declared bankruptcy in January that year. In this case, too, Gucci’s offer was approved by a Florence court. Based outside Florence, in Sesto Fiorentino, not far from Gucci’s own headquarters, Richard Ginori 1735 SpA (from the date it was founded) specializes in handcrafted and decorated porcelain tableware. Gucci was the only company that had stepped up to help preserve the brand, with an offer of 13 million euros, or $17 million, pledging to keep 230 employees out of a total of 308.
“We have been discovering a world that goes beyond what you see in the product. The artisanal production techniques are art in every sense. We knew these were unique skills that were at risk,” le Divelec remarked, underscoring some complexities that were unexpected. The company has been recovering hand-painting techniques, such as the antique spolvero, or “pounce,” which was used for frescoes in the 17th and 18th centuries, or that of threaded gold that’s infused on the ceramics by hand. A traditional Richard Ginori manual airbrush technique also helps make each piece unique.
It’s not the first time the two houses have connected. Gucci collaborated with Richard Ginori in the late Seventies, and a number of the pieces they created together from that time are on display at Gucci’s museum in Florence.
Le Divelec pointed to “substantial intervention” in the revamp of the production structures and tools, although she declined to say how much it cost. The company hired 270 employees in the factory when it took over, and the number continues to grow. With the new year, Gucci opened a training school, tapping into the Art Academy, to shape the next generation of skilled workers. Le Divelec said it takes 10 years to train a painter. The brand’s first collection under its new ownership was presented last year, and a Gucci-branded ceramics line is in the wings.
Renzo Rosso’s acquisition of Staff International in 2000 not only helped preserve one of Italy’s manufacturing experts, but was also the first step toward his dream project of creating a higher-quality product and a top-range fashion pole.
Today, Rosso’s OTB SpA, which rings up sales of more than $2 billion annually, controls the Diesel group; Brave Kid Srl, which manages under license the production and distribution of children’s collections for the Diesel, John Galliano, Hello Kitty and Dsquared2 brands; Staff International SpA, which holds licenses for the production and distribution of the Dsquared2, Just Cavalli, Marc Jacobs, Maison Margiela, Viktor & Rolf and Vivienne Westwood brands; the Marni Group; Neuf Sarl — holder of the Maison Margiela trademark — and Viktor & Rolf BV.
“As soon as I heard that Staff risked going bankrupt, I didn’t want to let that happen,” recalled Rosso, still sanguine about the potential loss.
At the time, Staff International was producing the fashion-forward, high-quality Diesel Style Lab. “I always believed in the high-end product range, it’s a separate world with an attention to details that [disregards] speed and a different cost per minute,” Rosso said.
Asked to outline the reasons for the near-bankruptcy and the decisions made to fix Staff International, the entrepreneur pointed to “bad management and wrong strategic choices on the [licensed] brands, with sky-rocketing costs, little quantities and zero margins. The first thing I did was to bring in top management, rationalize our stockkeeping units and the choice of brands, stepping up technology and bringing in our treatments.”
One of the first successful new licenses was Dsquared2, and Rosso held on to the existing Vivienne Westwood and Maison Martin Margiela agreements, shedding others such as Bella Freud or New York Industrie.
Skills today, he said, range from producing a 3-D dress to a knitwear atelier, among others.
Based in Noventa Vicentina, not far from Rosso’s Diesel and OTB headquarters, Staff International exemplifies Rosso’s idea of Made in Italy production, which he “strongly” believes in.
“There is an increased return to local manufacturing. Actually, I think there will even be more requests than [we have capacity for]. We should hold onto these skills to satisfy growing demand.”
Also in the Vicenza area, Sinv SpA last year rescued the Piazza Sempione label. Piazza Sempione was previously controlled by Luxemburg-based SLPS — a holding company that includes LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s private equity fund L Capital; the brand’s founders Marisa Guerrizio and Roberto Monti, who are husband and wife, and former chief executive officer Enrico Morra. Named after the square where it was originally located, Piazza Sempione was founded in 1991. Monti and Guerrizio left the company shortly after they sold it to L Capital in 2006.
Hit by the financial crisis in 2011, in October 2012 the Milan-based company filed a petition with the court, and in February 2013, Piazza Sempione submitted a restructuring plan, including a proposal for renting the brand to Sinv for a year before selling it to Sinv, which was accepted by both the court and the brand’s creditors. The total amount paid was “a formal sum” of 3.5 million euros, or $4.6 million at average exchange.
“Piazza Sempione is a women’s brand of great value, historic and totally made in Italy,” said Sandra Spinacè, general director of Sinv and ceo of Piazza Sempione. “We take pride in the fact that Italian production is one of the brand’s two main assets, which we want to maintain. The other asset is that it has a strong presence in international markets.”
Despite its alternating fortunes, Spinacè marveled at the “strong affection” that continues to be shown to the brand. Asked to single out best-selling designs and unique skills, the executive pointed to the Audrey cropped pants, “which have been around since the dawn of time,” for their level of comfort, and the artisanal needle-punch knit techniques, in addition to the double, “almost sartorial” manufacturing process.
“Our customers understand the value of this product,” Spinacè stated.
Sinv has a 30 percent stake in Moschino, the majority of which is controlled by Aeffe SpA, and also owns 100 percent of men’s ready-to-wear and accessories brand Luca Roda Srl.
Founded in 1975, Sinv is owned by the Dalla Rovere family. Over the years, it has produced sportswear and casual lines under licensing agreements for labels including Voyage Passion, Krizia Jeans, JPG by Gaultier and DKNY Jeans for men and women in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.
The acquisition of Piazza Sempione is part of a strategy of diversification with a brand that is entirely owned by the group, explained Spinacè.
“Our efforts are aimed at restoring credibility while respecting the brand’s values. The pipeline is still there — the machine had just clogged up.”