Copycats might be the scourge of fashion, but a little unwanted attention helped Remo Ruffini and Eurazeo, his now-former private equity partner in Moncler, rake in billions.
After eight years, Eurazeo said it has exited the last of its stake in the luxury outerwear brand, selling 4.8 percent of the company for 445 million euros. That’s more money than Eurazeo and its co-investors paid for 45 percent of the company in 2011, making for one of the most successful private equity investments in fashion in recent memory.
The spark — or at least part of it — came from copies of Moncler’s signature puffer.
Virginie Morgon, who is now chief executive officer of Eurazeo, told WWD that when she was first looking at the brand in 2009 and 2010, it was still relatively small but generating lots of interest from lookalike makers.
“I remember traveling in Shanghai and Beijing and noticing how many copies were made,” Morgon said. “I was intrigued.”
That intrigue ultimately led to a deal and a partnership that helped create the new category of luxury outerwear, where Moncler has added some fashion flair to what was once a utility-driven area.
But the process wasn’t always easy.
“We were very concerned that the product range was so narrow,” Morgon said of the start. The brand also had fewer than 30 stores and nearly half of its sales came from Italy.
Morgon credited Ruffini as the “genius” behind the brand, but said she was there pushing the company.
“We certainly had a vision, which we pushed,” she said, noting Moncler was not just a “winter brand,” but a luxury brand.
The company added other styles to expand its range, including a light jacket and summer down, and also expanded into what Morgon called “hot cities” like Los Angeles, and gained momentum.
“It wasn’t always easy,” she said. “Let’s be clear, especially at the time of the IPO [in 2013] because your interests aren’t always aligned — ‘Who is selling? Who is keeping [their stake]? What’s your view of the business? Where is the company going?’”
But clearly, the partnership worked and Morgon said Ruffini, who was not available for comment Wednesday, asked her to stay on the company’s advisory board.
“The reason he asked me to stay — we’ve not been easy, but we’ve been right,” she said. “This is what you look for in partners. We’ve been difficult in a way, very disciplined and demanding, but we’ve been good partners.”
Morgon said Ruffini told her, “I need someone around me who knows the company and can tell me what he or she thinks, really.”
She said Ruffini has “big ambitions for the brand and what he does, but at the same time is conservative.”
“We opened on average 15 to 20 stores a year,” she said. “We could have opened way more than that, but we didn’t just want to open stores, we wanted to open a statement for the brand, a home.”
All told, the investment generated proceeds of 1.4 billion euros for Eurazeo and the association helped Moncler build a market capitalization of 9.2 billion euros and Ruffini a fortune that Forbes places at $2.4 billion. (Shares of Moncler closed down 1.8 percent to 36.40 euros Wednesday.)
Now the trick is to find the next Moncler.
Eurazeo, which has roughly 17 billion euros in assets under management, is a shareholder in Farfetch, Vestiaire Collective and, through its Eurazeo Brands division, Nest Fragrances, Pat McGrath Labs and Bandier.