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Advent International Corp. is the private equity firm that made it to the current round of bidding for footwear brand Stuart Weitzman, according to financial and market sources.

This story first appeared in the December 12, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Advent is said to join Brown Shoe Co. Inc. and Coach Inc. in the latest round of bidding. Financial sources said all three are in the middle of conducting due diligence, and that completion of the process could take another two or three months.

Financial sources said that investment bankers for Weitzman — Goldman Sachs as the lead banker with an assist from Citi — had been seeking initial bids of at least $600 million for the brand, but it wasn’t clear how much higher those bids came in at for the current round of bidding. One investment banker said that it’s hard to tell what the final number could be, but it wasn’t “unreasonable” to think that in the event of a bidding war the final price tag could reach more than $800 million. How high that number rises could also depend on what avenues of growth a potential new owner thinks can be developed for the brand — and that’s a point that’s been debated by many prospective buyers.

Some potential buyers, such as Leonard Green & Partners, took a look and elected to walk away. Others have said they couldn’t get to Goldman’s $600 million-plus asking price, in part because there was no succession plan in place and because they questioned what the brand was worth if the firm’s founder, Stuart Weitzman, were no longer involved in the company.

The Weitzman business, while mature in the sense that it’s already an established brand, still has some room to grow internationally. The business has been focusing the better part of this year on expansion in Asia, and could likely have freestanding stores in 14 cities in Greater China by year end. It also has been focused on its e-commerce strategy in the region, particularly in Hong Kong, China and Australia. The company also has a selection of handbags, clutches and wallets — a natural accessories complement for many footwear firms.

Now might be the right time to sell a brand such as Weitzman, given the current mergers-and-acquisitions focus on accessories and footwear brands and Jimmy Choo’s recent joining of the FTSE-500 ranking of top stocks in London with a valuation of more than $1 billion.

A spokesman for Advent declined comment, as did a spokeswoman for the other two bidders. On the investment banking side, a spokeswoman for Goldman also declined comment.

Weitzman was part of The Jones Group, which was acquired by private equity firm Sycamore Partners in April in a $2.2 billion deal. A spokesman for Sycamore declined comment on the sale process.

When Sycamore recapitalized the business earlier this year, it was done “in partnership” with the brand, with Sycamore holding a majority stake. Stuart Weitzman, who founded the firm, is an employee of the now-standalone firm, and holds the title of executive chairman.

The Weitzman brand has been sold before. Stuart Weitzman sold his firm to a European firm in the Seventies, and then he bought it back about a decade before he resold the company to Jones Apparel Group, later renamed The Jones Group. Jones acquired its first stake in May 2010 and then the balance in August 2012.

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