PARIS — Adding to a string of deals this year in Europe’s luxury sector — this time with a proven and familiar design talent — Kering is investing in Tomas Maier, the signature brand of Bottega Veneta’s creative director, WWD has learned.
The French group is to reveal today that it has formed a joint venture with Maier to develop his brand, founded in 1997 and known primarily for swimwear, knitwear and jersey.
The partners plan to expand the product range to a complete lifestyle assortment dovetailing with its leisure-oriented spirit.
Financial terms could not immediately be learned, but it is understood Kering has taken a significant stake in the Florida-based company, infusing it with the capital needed to ramp up expansion, including the addition of more company-owned boutiques.
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At present, Tomas Maier operates two freestanding stores — one in Palm Beach, Fla., and another in East Hampton, N.Y. — and wholesales the collection to about 100 doors, including speciality and department stores. Market sources estimate the brand generates revenues of below $10 million.
The transaction telegraph’s Kering’s confidence in Maier, a German-born designer who joined Bottega Veneta in 2001, leading the Italian brand into new product categories including jewelry, furniture, fragrances, eyewear and timepieces. Maier has helped catapult Bottega Veneta to become the French group’s largest luxury property after Gucci.
“I am excited to enter into this new chapter for the Tomas Maier brand in parallel with my role at Bottega Veneta,” the designer said. “I could not imagine a better partner than Kering for the Tomas Maier brand. We speak the same language and have a mutual understanding of how to take this business we started 15 years ago to new heights.”
The transaction further tops up Kering’s luxury holdings, and takes place amidst a flurry of transactions in Europe. This year, Kering has taken majority stakes in Italian jeweler Pomellato and the London fashion house Christopher Kane, plus a minority investment in New York designer Joseph Altuzarra.
Meanwhile, luxury rival LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has invested in brands ranging from Italian cashmere specialist Loro Piana to hot London designers J.W. Anderson and Nicholas Kirkwood.
Maier, who spent nine years at Hermès before joining Bottega, was an unlikely savior for a company steeped in Italian tradition. But the tenets he set down — no logos and no compromises — redefined the company in an era of luxury branding run amok.
The year 2012 was a record one for Bottega Veneta, which crossed the $1 billion mark in revenues for the first time and posted strong profitability.
The firm saw a 46.7 percent jump in operating profit, which reached 300 million euros, or $384 million, as reported. Full-year revenues hit 945.1 million euros, or $1.2 billion, up 38.5 percent compared with the previous year.
In the first nine months of 2013, revenues at Bottega climbed 14 percent to 724.9 million euros, or $950 million at average exchange. From the end of 2009 to the end of 2012, the brand grew 134 percent.
Maier’s women’s and men’s collections for Bottega have been garnering positive reactions from retailers and customers, with leather goods accounting for 85 percent of sales, and apparel growing at the same pace “in absolute value,” chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri said in a recent interview.
Describing the signature brand he founded with business partner Andrew Preston in a 1998 interview with WWD, Maier said: “There will be bottoms, tops and dresses so women can create their own looks. They’ll go in a nightclub, or be comfortable enough to sleep in on a plane. You just won’t have to think about it. The whole idea is that they be light and easy to travel with so they can get you from here to there.”
Maier launched online sales in 1998, and the product range today extends to ballerina shoes for women and sweaters, shirts, aviator sunglasses and clogs for men.
He trained at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, and worked for Guy Laroche, Georges Rech and Iceberg, where he was principal designer. He was the originator of Sonia Rykiel’s men’s wear line, which he did for eight years.
At Hermès, Maier designed coats, sportswear, scarf-print clothing, swimwear, leather and shearling, and accessories like gloves, shoes and handbags.
In the 1998 interview, he noted he chose swimwear as his first solo venture because it corresponded to ideas he’d already been developing for his own brand.