PARIS — Paul Poiret is poised to be the next marquee brand revival.
This story first appeared in the October 28, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
And in a 21st-century twist on luxury M&A, the current owner of the Poiret trademarks plans to sell them via an online auction process that kicks off today.
The development propels an under-the-radar process from lobby bars and boardrooms to the realm of downloadable non-disclosure agreements.
While online auctions of intellectual property assets are routine, “the unusual side here is that the process is meant to allow the successful bidder to relaunch and develop the brand as a business. This is not for collectors,” said Pierre Mallevays, managing director of London-based Savigny Partners, the boutique M&A firm spearheading the process.
Calling Poiret a “very special asset” bound to attract interest from a wide spectrum of potential bidders, Mallevays said the online approach “would give everyone potentially interested the chance to participate.”
Normally, the seller of a brand identifies the likely pool of buyers — typically those with the structure and synergies to properly deploy such a brand — and contacts them “in a more corporate manner,” Mallevays allowed. Here, almost anyone with the means can join and “very little due diligence will be required so that bidders will be in a position to offer binding bids toward the end of the process and close the deal.”
He declined to predict how much the brand might fetch, but sources estimated it could attract bids in the midsingle-digit millions.
Poiret now belongs to Luvanis SA, a company under the stewardship of French entrepreneur Arnaud de Lummen, who has carved out a business awakening dormant brands. He reintroduced Vionnet ready-to-wear in 2006, later off-loading the trademarks, and famously sold Moynat, a prestigious 19th-century trunk maker, to Groupe Arnault, which recently unveiled a product collaboration with “Happy” singer Pharrell Williams.
“In my experience, sleeping beauties usually appeal to luxury leaders or entrepreneurs who have experience in managing brands, but Paul Poiret is so well-known it could attract lesser-known investors out of the blue, including from developing markets,” de Lummen told WWD.
Luvanis, registered in Luxembourg, holds a cache of historic names including Mainbocher, storied footwear brand Herbert Levine and 19th-century trunk maker Au Départ. De Lummen has also been closely involved in the revival of Philadelphia trunk and bag specialist Belber, with the first collection expected imminently. He noted he is in advanced talks to relaunch Levine with an Italian producer and a Middle East investment fund.
Although Poiret products have been absent from the market for more than 80 years, de Lummen is convinced it has the legitimacy to become a global lifestyle brand.
He called Poiret’s aesthetic a “pervasive influence in fashion” and the designer a figure who was larger-than-life and with many artistic, business and social pursuits.
“In terms of notoriety, today’s closest equivalent to Paul Poiret would be Karl Lagerfeld,” de Lummen said. “Paul Poiret is much more than a style or a couture label. He established lifestyle branding and lived it fully himself.”
Dubbed the “King of Fashion” between 1904 and 1924, the French designer was known for embracing Orientalism and bringing strident color, harem pants, kimono coats and hobble skirts into fashion. Son of a Parisian cloth merchant, he sold sketches to couturiers and started his career at Doucet and Worth before launching his own house.
After the World War I, he refused to change his exotic approach and faded from the fashion scene. He died in 1944 after years of poverty and illness.
Yet his oeuvre has a following among fashion cognoscenti. Azzedine Alaïa organized a retrospective and auction in Paris in 2005, and The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an exhibition in 2007, tracing the importance of Poiret’s wife and coconspirator Denise during the designer’s creative peak in the 1910s.
De Lummen describes his quest to acquire the trademark “a real headache” and something of a “Mexican standoff” as owners were scattered in many countries, some with overlapping rights, and none initially willing to sell.
He made a breakthrough in Japan, acquiring the rights there, and then prevailed in other regions via a mix of acquisitions, settlements and trademark procedures that wound up earlier this year. Assets for sale include domain names, archive catalogs, memoirs, monographs, illustrations and other memorabilia, but no vintage garments.
De Lummen noted he crafted a revival plan for Poiret based on his experience relaunching Vionnet, and even had a designer in mind.
“Personally, my dream would have been for John Galliano to be the designer,” he said, referring to the British fashion maverick who recently joined Maison Martin Margiela as creative director after sitting on the sidelines for three years following his ouster from Dior and his signature fashion house.
“However, we eventually decided to limit our role in this preliminary state of the revival and to now identify the right partner or investor who will lead the relaunch,” he said.
Mallevays said potential bidders for Poiret must come forward and be vetted by Nov. 14. Approved bidders are given a password allowing them access to an “online data room” containing details about the trademarks and archive materials.
The deadline for initial bids is Nov. 28, with a transaction expected to close before the end of 2014.
An outright sale is the most likely outcome, according to Mallevays. But given that de Lummen’s ultimate goal is a successful relaunch, he “may very well consider other proposals including joint ventures or offers to license the brand with an option to purchase.”
He noted that Luvanis has set a reserve price and “will happily keep Poiret if it is not met.”
Once initial bids are received, the process moves offline, so it’s not an automated auction typical on sites like eBay, Mallevays said.
Still, he said very little due diligence would be required since de Lummen has spent years and considerable investment to ensure the brand is fully protected, with no risk of third parties seeking to register competing rights.
Asked if online M&A could become more common, Mallevays said, “it can only really be applied if none or very little due diligence is required, that is, for IP assets such as trademarks as opposed to ongoing, trading businesses.”
Like many designers, Poiret lost the rights to his name in 1924 when he sold his fashion house to investors, only to find himself pushed out five years later. The house closed in 1930, with the name resurfacing briefly when Printemps and Liberty commissioned special collections in 1932 and 1933, de Lummen said.
While some might argue reviving heritage names is risky, de Lummen is convinced that luxury brands need patrimony and a compelling brand narrative to make it in a crowded marketplace.
“Poiret is celebrated everywhere as the first true superstar fashion designer,” he said, pointing to frequent Poiret mentions in fashion magazines, art books, major exhibitions and even digital archives, which are harnessing the power of the Internet to popularize historic designers. “The fashion world is getting more and more addicted to its own past.”