Neiman Marcus: Roosevelt Field Store Opening, New York - 18 Feb 2016Neiman Marcus: Roosevelt Field Store Opening, New York - 18 Feb 2016

With the Neiman Marcus Group’s future up in the air — and talks with Richard Baker’s Hudson’s Bay Co. seemingly at a standstill — the world beckons.

Dubai-based retail operator Majid Al Futteim Group is said to have shown interest in the tony, but debt-laden retailer and is exploring avenues to bring the brand overseas, possibly through a licensing deal that would resemble Bloomingdale’s hookup with Al Tayer, according to sources.

Al-Futtaim operates 20 shopping malls, 12 hotels and other properties across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Dubai is at least somewhat familiar territory for Neiman Marcus Group chief executive officer Karen Katz, who addressed the World Retail Congress there in April, where she spoke about “Retaining Relevance: The Rejuvenation of Brand.”

There have been rumors of a Middle Eastern player with an interest in Neiman Marcus, but until now there’s been little indication of exactly who and what their involvement might mean for the acquisitive Baker, who has long coveted the company.

A spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus did not immediately respond to a query from WWD.

Hudson’s Bay has been seen as Neiman’s most interested suitor for some time, but no deal is close.

Hudson’s Bay and Neiman’s private equity owners are said to still be too far apart on price. Ares Management and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board bought the company for $6 billion in 2013, but luxury retail softened and the company is struggling to carry the $4.7 billion debt load that came on the heels of two successive private equity buyouts.

Ares and the CPPIB had hoped to exit their investment through an initial public offering, but pulled the plug on that effort in January and launched a more formal sale process. The partners are assumed to be under water on the investment, but with no significant debt maturities until 2021 when $2.9 billion comes due, they can hold out for at least a while longer as they try to salvage something in a transaction.

That could be where Al-Futtaim comes in. A lucrative deal to take the 42-door Neiman Marcus to the Middle East, for instance, could help stabilize the company’s finances and buy Ares and CPPIB more time.

Al-Futtaim’s interest and the possibility of some sort of move abroad by Neiman Marcus adds one more moving part to an already complicated financial backdrop at the company.

Already a potential deal with Baker was made tougher by the retailer’s move in March to shift the Mytheresa business and three Neiman’s stores into “unrestricted subsidiaries.” That distanced the assets from increasingly nervous debt holders, but also muddied the waters some from a deal perspective.

Still, it might be some time before the market gets what it most wants from the situation — clarity.

Brands rely on the department store, as a key account and because they still can convey a sense of legitimacy to the fashion crowd and the lenders and factors who fuel the back end of the designer business.

Landlords also have a stake in the game, particularly since other retailers often have clauses in their leases that let them jump ship early if a key anchor leaves a mall.

Real estate firm Related Cos. met with Neiman Marcus last month in New York to get a read on the retailer’s status and some peace of mind, according to sources. The firm was also looking to see if there was a way for it to “strategically help” the retailer.

Related signed on Neiman Marcus to be a central draw at the Hudson Yards mall on Manhattan’s West Side.

The drama at Neiman Marcus is heightened by the fact that American retail is in the midst of dramatic sectoral change, with decades of overbuilding finally coming to a head and retailers of all stripes stepping back and closing stores as e-commerce gains ground and shoppers look for new types of experiences.

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