Riccardo Tisci and Donatella Versace


MILAN — Could Versace be growing cautious about rushing to an IPO, even as it could potentially shake up the designer landscape by chasing none other than Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci?

Market sources say that the Italian fashion company is rethinking the timing of its initial public offering as it embarks on a significant expansion plan ahead of a listing. To that end, according to numerous sources, Versace has made overtures to Tisci and held discussions in recent months.

The likelihood of a deal between the Italian fashion house and Tisci could not immediately be learned, but speculation is mounting that the two sides are in talks. The designer, Givenchy’s artistic director, is in the throes of preparing his fall men’s show for the runway on Friday night, alongside his winter couture collection.

Givenchy said Wednesday that it does not comment on rumors.

Sources said any contact between Versace and Tisci would be delicate, given his close relationship with Donatella Versace, which culminated with her appearing in Givenchy’s fall 2015 campaign. It was considered boundary-breaking to use another designer to promote a competing label’s collection — tantamount to Ford inviting Chevrolet to make a cameo in one of its spots.

Luring Tisci away from Givenchy, which he has rejuvenated in his own image, would be a coup for Versace, given his couture chops, lifelong admiration for Gianni Versace’s legacy — and a circle of friends that spans from Kanye West and Beyoncé to Marina Abramović and Madonna.

It would be unsettling for the French fashion house, given Tisci’s long tenure at the brand and its current business momentum. He is in the midst of widening the Givenchy lifestyle, having recently introduced jeanswear and children’s wear, and segmenting his collections into street, classic and fashion offerings.

A Versace spokesman on Wednesday denied that the IPO has been put on hold, claiming that there was “never a specific timetable for that or any other financial event. We did not have a particular target date, and thus nothing has been postponed.”

While it is true that in light of the uncertain market no precise date was set, a three-to-five-year timeframe for a public offering was cited in 2014 and was reiterated several times in 2016 by former chief executive officer Gian Giacomo Ferraris. Now sources say independent board members have stepped down, which is a sign that the listing is no longer a priority.

“Our board is half family members and half non-family members, so it’s incorrect to say that there are no members outside the family,” said the spokesman. But it is likely the non-family members are part of The Blackstone Group, which bought a 20 percent stake in Versace in 2014.

As for Tisci’s potential arrival at the company, the spokesman said, “Donatella Versace is the creative director of the company and at this time we do not have any plans to change that. Beyond that, of course, we do not comment on rumors.”

He did not specifically address whether talks have been held with Tisci.

A market source underscored that “the entire family is dedicated to the company’s heritage, their mission is to make the company as successful as possible.”

In that light, Donatella Versace welcoming a designer of Tisci’s clout would be in line with her past efforts to champion young talent. Versace tapped Christopher Kane in 2009 to help relaunch the Versus line and, when the two parted ways, she forged a new path for the brand, developing it into a seasonless line with a strong digital component, with the intention of working with young designers with a fresh approach. In 2013, she tapped Anthony Vaccarello as a guest designer for Versus, and then named him its creative director, until he departed last year to join Saint Laurent.

A source highlighted Versace’s awareness of the current times. “She is connected and she understands what young customers want, and what would really propel the brand forward. She needs to think of the future of the company,” said the source.

To be sure, a leading designer such as Tisci would ramp up the brand’s “cool factor,” social media reach and appeal.

As far back as May last year, a source told WWD of the idea of Versace possibly “pairing with a designer, perhaps Riccardo Tisci, in light of how close they are. She could be more of the soul and image of the brand.”

When Donatella Versace appeared in the Givenchy ads, Tisci told WWD: “There’s no jealousy and no competition between us. It’s a real, pure friendship: Somebody who’s part of my gang, part of my family. We want to give a message of friendship and love.”

At that time, Versace echoed the sentiment, and gave a resounding endorsement to her Paris-based counterpart: “Riccardo Tisci is extremely talented and, above all, my dear friend. We are family. I want to get rid of the old system, work together, support each other and make fashion a true global community.”

Speaking about the future from Blackstone’s point of view, a source said the New York-based group could be looking for an exit over the next 36 months given most private investor’s three-to-five year time frame and that selling to another private equity fund is unlikely. As a result, an IPO remains the most logical solution, unless a fashion or industrial group makes a move to buy all of Versace.

Multiple sources concurred that the Versace family is deeply committed to the company, has great ambitions for it and feels the responsibility to grow it in the wake of Gianni Versace’s murder in 1997. His niece Allegra Versace Beck inherited 50 percent of the company, and his sister and his brother Santo have a 20 and 30 percent stake, respectively.

“This is a positive step, Versace will go public when it is stronger,” said a luxury goods analyst, who spoke on conditions of anonymity.

Doing that now “with these financial numbers is not conceivable; Versace’s growth rate has to get stronger,” said another analyst.

To be sure, 2016 was not an easy year for the luxury goods sector, with an increasingly competitive and uncertain arena. “It’s a longer process than they thought; they need to reset and take the time to grow,” said a source.

When former Alexander McQueen ceo Jonathan Akeroyd was appointed to succeed Gian Giacomo Ferraris last year, he said: “They’ve done an incredible job over the last three to four years, and my priority now is to get a handle on the business, get involved and increase the momentum. There is a huge amount of ambition from the Versace family and from Blackstone, and Blackstone is definitely in line with the family’s vision.”

The executive at the time underscored Donatella Versace’s sensibility. “She has a really contemporary vision for the brand and a massive eye for talent. Very few brands have that combination of heritage and being so progressive.”

In turn, she emphasized that Akeroyd’s “experience building contemporary brands is also very simpatico with Versace’s desire to continue to stay relevant with younger audiences.”

Versace’s own stores are increasingly becoming the engine behind the brand’s growth, as shown by its performance in 2015, when retail sales were up 28.9 percent to 400.7 million euros, or $440.7 million.

In 2015, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization rose 19.9 percent to 81 million euros, or $89.1 million. The Milan-based group saw revenues increase 17.5 percent to 645 million euros, or $709.5 million.

Dollar figures were converted from the euro at average exchange rates for the periods in question.

Ferraris was tapped in 2009 to restructure the company and in 2010 the company swung back to profit ahead of the 2011 date that had been forecast, and started setting its expansion. In 2011, the company posted earnings of 8.5 million euros, or $11.8 million, compared with a loss of 21.7 million euros, or $28.6 million, in 2010. Revenues rose 16.4 percent to 340.2 million euros, or $472.6 million. The company embarked on a retail expansion around the world, re-entered Japan, and returned to the couture schedule after pulling out in 2004.

Talks about a possible Versace IPO have surfaced repeatedly over the years, as the family was pursuing that plan until Gianni Versace’s death. In 2004, Versace took initial steps in that direction, appointing Lazard and Credit Suisse First Boston to find a minority investor with the eventual plan to take the company public. But the project fizzled. In 2006 and 2007, a listing once again emerged as a possibility for the company, until it hit a rough patch in the following few years.

Blackstone bought a 20 percent stake through a capital increase of 150 million euros, or $205.8 million, and acquired shares for 60 million euros, or $82.3 million. The deal valued the company at 1 billion euros, or $1.38 billion, to accelerate its development with the goal to publicly list the firm in three to five years. The Italian fashion firm was looking to sell a 20 percent holding to finance future growth, as the family wanted to maintain control over the company.

As reported at the time of the sale, Ferraris said he hoped for Versace to reach global sales of 800 million euros, or $1.09 billion, in three years.

Ferraris had set a target for a possible IPO: when the company hit sales of 500 million to 600 million euros, or $676 million to $811.2 million. Last year, he reiterated the three- to five-year time frame first cited in 2014, highlighting the two main elements to take into account: The shareholders — led by the Versace family and Blackstone Group, which owns 20 percent — and the market’s openness to IPOs.

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