MILAN — Belgian designer Dirk Bikkembergs has sold his brand to Zeis Excelsa SpA, the label’s footwear licensee. Based in Italy’s shoe production hub of the Marche region, Zeis Excelsa plans to strengthen Bikkembergs’ international retail structure, focus on the brand’s women’s wear collections and further develop its licenses, aiming at doubling revenues within three years. As per the agreement, the company takes control of the Dirk Bikkembergs Sport Couture, Bikkembergs and Bikkembergs Sport brands. The designer will remain as creative director of the lines.

This story first appeared in the July 12, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“This is a new important development step,” said Maurizio Pizzuti, chairman and chief executive officer of Zeis Excelsa. “When we started manufacturing footwear together a few years ago, friendship, affection and mutual esteem developed between Dirk and myself.” Pizzuti said he plans to preserve the brand’s “Italian character of production.” Consolidated revenues of the Bikkembergs brands today are about 100 million euros, or $141.5 million at current exchange, excluding licenses for underwear, eyewear and children’s wear.

Bikkembergs was one of the Antwerp Six, an influential group of designers from Belgium’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts that included Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, among others. Bikkembergs, known for his soccer-inspired designs, launched his first men’s line in 1988, followed in 1993 by a women’s collection. Since the spring 1989 season, the designer has worked only with Italian manufacturers.

Pizzuti said he is considering expanding Bikkembergs’ product offer through new licenses, including fragrances. With plans to develop business internationally, in particular in China and Russia, 15 stores will open by 2012 in locations such as Dubai, Moscow, Kazan, Wenzhou, Andorra, Naples and Bologna, among others. There are 19 stores in existence.

Zeis Excelsa SpA, which holds international licenses for Samsonite footwear, and distributes the Harley Davidson, Merrell and Sebago brands on the Italian market, closed 2010 with consolidated sales of 111 million euros, or $146.5 million at average exchange rates, and expects revenues of 150 million euros, or $213.7 million at current exchange, this year.

A year ago, an inquiry by Italy’s tax police resulted in allegations that Bikkembergs had evaded tax payments of 111 million euros, or $151.7 million. The designer rebutted the allegations, calling them “shameful towards a foreign investor.” The investigation was focusing on two companies: 22 Srl, which produces clothing in Fossombrone, Italy, for Bikkembergs’ brand, and Luxembourg-based IFF Sarl, the distributor of the brand’s products.

The authorities alleged the Bikkembergs organization is in Italy and that revenues were redirected to Luxembourg instead of being declared and taxed in Italy. The designer’s lawyer, Francesco Giuliani, said at the time, “Our position is that the authorities have not taken into account the real situation: IFF does not have a structured organization in Italy, and they [the tax authorities] did not correctly calculate the turnover of IFF, as they did not take into account the company’s costs.”

An industry source said Bikkembergs’ fine has in the meantime been reduced to less than 3 million euros, or $4.2 million, but the company was not reachable at press time to confirm this information.

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