NEW YORK — Bear Stearns Merchant Banking has acquired a 40 percent stake in Stuart Weitzman Holdings LLC, a major supplier of shoes and accessories to Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, among other stores.

Stuart Weitzman will continue as the majority owner, chief executive officer and designer of the firm he founded.

Mercantile Capital Partners LP co-invested with Bear Stearns, which led the transaction. Mercantile is an arm of Financo Inc., which acted as financial adviser to Weitzman.

“Stuart has some strong visions of where he would like to see his company,” said Richard. L. Perkal, senior managing director, Bear Stearns Merchant Banking. “He wasn’t just looking for capital investment. He was looking for a partner to help him accomplish his goals.”

Perkal added that taking Weitzman public is a possibility in the future.

Weitzman’s annual sales volume is more than $100 million. The partnership is intended to make growth faster and more extensive. New strategies for opening stores and brand extensions to broaden the offering will be developed.

The company sells to stores in about 50 countries, with most of the volume in Europe and the U.S. Aside from wholesaling, Weitzman operates 15 stores in the U.S. and eight overseas, and plans six more U.S. locations this year.

Weitzman offers a range of shoes and price points starting in the $200 range to as much as about $2,000. The brand is known for its creative and quirky windows, often displaying “shoe art” rather than any of the actual product.

“I am very happy,” said Weitzman, 63. “We’ve been looking for the right partner for a couple of years. The overriding consideration was that I wanted only a minority partner so I could continue running the business. I’ve ruled out strategic firms for the moment. I’m not ready to turn it over to anyone.” He also said he chose Bear Stearns because “I very much like the people. That’s the main reason.”

Among the strategies Weitzman plans to pursue will be to build a bigger infrastructure and increase management, get more into handbags, hire a handbag designer and add men’s and children’s shoes. Accelerating retail growth, particularly overseas, also will be a priority. But Perkal stressed, “This is not a retail play.”

This story first appeared in the June 30, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Bear Stearns once had a large investment in Aeropostale. Now, its investment is small, but the company still continues to have board representation.

In 2002, Bear Stearns bought New York & Co. for $78.5 million from Limited Brands Inc. It took New York & Co. public in November. It owns 50 percent of Seven For All Mankind and also controls Vitamin Shoppes.

As far as investing in other fashion or retail companies, Perkal said: “Absolutely. We intend to look at more luxury companies and team up with founders to help them build their businesses to another level.”

“Ninety percent of Stuart’s business is shoes and 10 percent is handbags,” said Gilbert Harrison, chairman of Financo, adding that other accessories as well as men’s and children’s shoes will be on the growth plan. “He should sell one handbag for every three pairs of shoes.”

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