PARIS — Amid reports that Baccarat could soon fall into Chinese hands, the head of France’s luxury goods association Comité Colbert said on Thursday she hoped that a local company would bid for the French crystal maker.
U.S. investment firm Starwood Capital has put Baccarat up for sale, and the highest bidder so far is a Chinese group, French daily L’Agefi reported last month. A spokeswoman for Baccarat said it does not comment on rumors. A spokesman for Starwood Capital did not immediately return a request for comment.
“It’s a French treasure and it would be a shame if it went [to a foreign bidder],” said Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, president and chief executive officer of Comité Colbert, which represents 81 companies in fields ranging from fashion to hotels, including Baccarat.
“The threat is that they will stray from the quality and the exceptional nature of the design and creativity of this brand,” she said, even as she acknowledged that the company was already held by an overseas investor.
The executive was speaking to reporters at a breakfast event held by Comité Colbert to set out its initiatives aimed at recruiting young talents.
Baccarat is the last remaining asset of parent group Taittinger, which Starwood purchased in 2005. The investment firm has already spun off divisions including fragrance brand Annick Goutal, the Taittinger Champagne house and luxury hotels such as the Crillon in Paris and the Martinez in Cannes.
“We would really like for LVMH to look at Baccarat,” said Ponsolle des Portes, noting that Hermès International already owns glass manufacturer Saint-Louis, and would therefore be unlikely to buy another company in the same field.
“It’s a French history, a French narrative. Foreigners are perfectly capable of preserving a French narrative,” she said, noting that French car manufacturer Bugatti is now owned by Germany’s Volkswagen, while Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Chloé all belong to Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.
“But we do prefer for it to remain in France, because it’s also a sign of how much the country is interested in its own wealth,” she added.
A spokesman for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton said it had no comment. The group’s Moët & Chandon and Dom Perignon Champagne brands have collaborated in the past with Riedel, an Austrian glassware manufacturer specializing in wine glasses.
Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, said Baccarat would make an attractive target for a luxury conglomerate.
“I think Baccarat is a great brand, with a unique know-how. It would fit well in a larger luxury group, where it could possibly be valued better. Large luxury conglomerates are new to investing in companies similar to this — think of Kering buying into Richard Ginori, for example,” he said, referring to the historic Italian porcelain maker, which was purchased by Kering-owned Gucci in 2013.
Starwood has commissioned investment banking firm Messier Maris & Associés to handle the sale and is seeking a valuation of around 200 million euros, or $223.6 million at current exchange rates, according to L’Agefi.
Founded in 1764 in the town of the same name, Baccarat has struggled in recent years with high fixed costs and changing consumer habits.
It posted sales of 148.3 million euros, or $164.1 million, in 2016, down 0.9 percent versus 2015. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization totaled 12.9 million euros, or $14.3 million, up 25.2 percent year-over-year. Dollar rates are calculated at average exchange for the period.
One of Comité Colbert’s missions is to ensure the survival of traditional crafts in France by making manual jobs attractive to young people.
The association recently supported for the first time a film competition aimed at schoolchildren themed around jobs they are interested in. The winning short, made by a high school in the disadvantaged Paris suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie, extolled the virtues of fragrance.
Separately, Comité Colbert plans to stage an event on June 16 at the Tokyo University of the Arts’ museum to celebrate the opening of “Rêver 2074,” an exhibition featuring works by 50 students inspired by literary texts commissioned by the group to imagine the future of luxury.
Some 30 leaders of French luxury houses will travel to Japan for the occasion.
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