Brand management firm Bluestar Alliance LLC is said to be close to acquiring the trademarks to the Tahari brand businesses owned by designer Elie Tahari.
Completion of the deal could happen as early as this week, although it is believed that the parties are still in discussions over the final details, which may include tax planning.
Neither executives at Elie Tahari nor at Bluestar Alliance could be reached for comment by press time.
The business is comprised of the Tahari Collection, T Tahari and Tahari ASL. The latter is the tailored apparel, sportswear and suit business begun in 2001 in partnership with Arthur S. Levine, who runs the business. Levine used to head up women’s suiting firm Kasper ASL. It was still unclear at press time whether Tahari ASL is part of the Bluestar transaction, but at least one source said it would make sense for Bluestar to buy the business and have Levine continue to run the operation. The designer himself is believed to be the one who would most likely continue to run the collection business.
What remains unclear is how the T Tahari business — one financial source said annual volume is around the $15 million range — would be managed.
Sources said Elie Tahari was asking for a “very high amount for the business.” One source said the high ask was due to bank debt, and another individual said the designer “needs a big number to clean up the bank line.”
Speculation in the markets pegged the amount owed as being in the $35 million to $40 million or so range. Sources also said they believed over time that the designer had pledged certain personal assets to keep the business afloat.
Word first surfaced in the markets about a possible sale of the company around late September and early October 2016. At the time, it was understood that the designer was facing business challenges that included a high debt load. One well-placed financial source said Tahari was getting “pressure” from banks that held the term loans for the business and that was when the designer began looking at possible solutions that included finding an investor, as well as a sale of the company.
Earlier this year Tahari’s commercial lender was in the financial markets seeking to sell the loan. Market sources said there were several interested parties, including private equity, but a stumbling block for private equity is that many don’t necessarily have the right platform to run an apparel business.
Another problem for many was the trajectory of the business. The Tahari business, considered a contemporary brand in the fashion space, was faced with declining sales due to the shift in consumer shopping patterns. With talk about the new shopping dynamics still under way, it was hard for potential investors to pinpoint when wholesalers and the department store channel would see a more positive shift in retail sales. And when the pressures began impacting operations, Tahari began consolidating operations, which included the closure of stores — a move that placed further financial pressure on cash flow.
Of the three components, the Tahari ASL business is profitable, according to one source familiar with the brand.
Tahari began his namesake label Tahari in 1974, the same year he opened his first boutique on Madison Avenue. The brand’s first fashion show was held at Studio 54 in 1977. In 2013, Sept. 4 was designated Elie Tahari Day by the City of New York, in recognition of the company’s 40th anniversary.
Bluestar is run by Joey Gabbay, chief executive officer, and Ralph Gindi, chief operating officer.
The firm counts Kensie, Joan Vass, English Laundry, Kooba and Limited Too among the brands under its umbrella. It also owns the brand Catherine Malandrino, as well as majority stakes in Michael Bastian and Nanette Lepore — although it has been in litigation with designers Malandrino and Lepore. Sources said the litigations are ongoing. Bluestar is also in a joint venture with Bebe Stores Inc. that’s connected to the Bebe trademarks and related intellectual property assets.