Diane von Furstenberg is eyeing the sale of a stake in her fashion company.
Speculation grew Thursday that DVF was looking to sell all or part of the contemporary sportswear company and close underperforming stores.
But von Furstenberg told WWD: “I’m not selling the business, but the time has come for me to bring in management that the company deserves. I have decided that we probably will sell an equity stake,” she said.
Von Furstenberg said she plans to hire Michel Dyens & Co., a leading independent investment banking firm, headquartered in New York and Paris, which is focused on mergers and acquisitions. Dyens has extensive experience leading transactions in luxury goods, beauty, spirits and other premium branded consumer goods. In fact, Dyens worked with DVF some 35 years ago when she sold her cosmetics company to British pharmaceutical giant Beecham Group Ltd. in 1983.
In recent years, the DVF brand has been challenged, as legacy contemporary brands have faced difficulties in department stores.
DVF has been without a chief executive officer since November 2016, when Paolo Riva parted ways with the company, and at the time von Furstenberg said her family would be getting more involved.
“My goal in the next phase of my life is to focus on my commitment to women’s causes,” said von Furstenberg, 70, who spoke Thursday afternoon at the Massachussetts Women’s Conference before 12,000 women. She said she has hired Dyens “to find an investor with expertise in order to attract the leadership this brand deserves to be disruptive in the digital world and create a real legacy.
“The brand is very clean. To go into a digital world, it has a lot of potential. We have not had a ceo for a year and I wanted Jonathan [Saunders, chief creative officer] to have a clean palette. Now it’s time to have leadership. It should no longer be exclusively a family business,” she said.
In a related move, von Furstenberg said she has also invited Paula Sutter, president of DVF Studio LLC from 1999 through 2013, to rejoin the company’s board in 2018. Sutter has been ceo of TSG Fashion for three years.
Von Furstenberg said Sutter won’t be involved in selling an equity stake, and that will be handled by herself and Dyens. “She’s not at all engaged in making a sale,” said the designer.
Von Furstenberg said over the past few years, the brand has been cleaned up and has shrunk a bit in volume. Her label is no longer carried in Bloomingdale’s, but is sold in stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. While she declined to divulge the company’s revenues, she said right now there’s a lot of disruption in the market, but she feels “the brand is so valuable,” citing the language of print and color for which it’s so well-known. “The kind of leadership that I would like shouldn’t go into a company that is only family.”
Asked what kind of time frame she’s under to sell a stake in the business, she said, “I don’t have any deadline or any pressure. There’s no fire anywhere. It hasn’t even been inked yet,” she said, referring to hiring Dyens. “It’s very premature.” She said she is eager to attract management that can take the business to the next level “and create the legacy.”
Von Furstenberg has more than 20 stores in the U.S. and some 120 stores worldwide in China, the Middle East, London and Paris, among other areas. Asked about the rumors that she would be closing stores, she said, “Everyone is closing stores. Some leases are not being renewed.” She said she owns the store in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, which is also her company’s headquarters, and has no plans to sell that. “I have cleaned up my distribution and want to go more directly to the consumer,” she said.
During Sutter’s tenure at DVF, she was instrumental in re-branding and growing the business. She helped evolve DVF, which had been known primarily for its signature wrap dress in its Seventies heyday, into a global lifestyle brand with freestanding stores and wholesale accounts in department and specialty stores worldwide. The brand has been positioned in the contemporary space and has expanded beyond apparel into accessories, home goods and a signature fragrance.
In May 2016, Saunders was named chief creative officer of DVF Studio, responsible for the overall creative direction of the brand. At the time of his hire, von Furstenberg said Saunders’ arrival symbolized and facilitated her stepping back from the day-to-day duties that occupy the work of a full-time creative director. When Saunders was hired, he reported to ceo Riva, who left after 18 months in the role.
At the time of Riva’s departure, von Furstenberg said he would not be replaced. Von Furstenberg said then that she planned to fortify her board and would be bringing in some “high-level, quality people.” She also said her son, Alex, who is co-chairman, was very involved. “I’m very much involved and my son is very much involved, and we’re planning this company for the legacy,” she said at the time.