Another famed Italian luxury brand is transitioning out of family control — and out of the country.
This story first appeared in the October 13, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Tengram Capital Partners today will reveal that it has acquired a majority stake in the Luciano Barbera brand, a luxury men’s and women’s wear label based in Italy’s Piedmont region. At the same time, Tengram has tapped Todd Barrato, the former chief executive officer of North American operations for Brioni, to be the brand’s new chief executive officer.
Luciano Barbera will continue to be involved with the label as chairman emeritus, and his daughter, Carola, will continue to serve as creative director.
With the Italian economy continuing to struggle, several other high-end brands also have changed hands over the past several years. Brioni has been part of Kering since 2011, when the company, then known as PPR, acquired 100 percent of the brand. LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton purchased, for $2.6 billion, a majority stake in Loro Piana in summer 2013. Roberto Cavalli is said to be close to selling a 60 percent stake in his fashion house to VTB Capital of Russia, although that deal originally was meant to close in August.
“We are middle-market consumer investors,” William Sweedler, cofounder and managing partner of Tengram, told WWD. “We identify brands that consumers are passionate about, and Luciano Barbera has a passionate following in ultraluxury.”
Sweedler said Tengram had “evaluated a number of opportunities” in the luxury category and found Luciano Barbera to be “particularly compelling, given its authentic heritage and dedication to manufacturing the finest-quality products entirely in Italy.”
But like many other small businesses, the brand has struggled to grow in recent times. In 2010, the family sold a controlling stake in Carlo Barbera, its Biella, Italy-based textile mill, to Kiton, the Neapolitan tailored-clothing company, for 3.3 million euros, or $4.5 million at current exchange. It retained ownership of the Luciano Barbera brand of tailored clothing, sportswear, furnishings, accessories and women’s wear. Sources said the Luciano Barbera brand today has worldwide sales of around $50 million and is sold at high-end stores, such as Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus and luxury specialty stores.
Sweedler declined to comment on the size of the business or Tengram’s stake but said, “Tengram wouldn’t be investing unless we knew we could strategically grow the top line four to five times over the next couple of years.”
The game plan to achieving that goal, he said, will come through expanding wholesale in the U.S. and internationally and opening several stores in key cities around the world.
Sweedler revealed that Tengram on Friday signed a lease to open a 1,500-square-foot flagship on Via Gesu in Milan. Barrato called the location “the epicenter of men’s” and the place where the finest brands — Brioni, Kiton, Zilli and others — have retail presences.
“And we’re looking to identify a location in New York, too,” Sweedler said. He stressed that the plan is not to open 50 units around the country but to place four to five stores around the U.S. in strategic spots that will “complement our existing wholesale distribution.” Barrato added, “That is a key ingredient to building the business.”
Tengram is also on the verge of signing a lease for a showroom “right off Fifth Avenue” in New York City, he said. In the past, retailers shopping the brand had to go to Italy to visit the showroom. The hope is to get the U.S. showroom open by January, to display the fall collection.
Even so, the plan is to continue Luciano Barbera’s limited wholesale distribution but make it “more important” to those retailers through the use of shops and other marketing initiatives, Sweedler emphasized. He said the company will focus on “a select group of stores in North America, Europe and China,” locations that will be “a critical part of building an ultraluxury brand.”
Sweedler, of course, believes that Luciano Barbera has a distinct niche within the Italian luxury market and is differentiated from Ermenegildo Zegna, Loro Piana, Brioni, Kiton or Uman because of the “personality” of its garments — even as many of those other brands have far outshone Barbera in recent years in terms of fashion and revenues. “Luciano’s philosophy is to produce garments with a soul that are of the highest quality. He calls it ‘sprezzatura,’ or ‘casual elegance.’ This brand exudes sprezzatura.”
Sweedler said he doesn’t expect a conflict with Kiton for the fabrics that Luciano Barbera will source from its former factory. The family still owns a 20 percent stake in the mill. He noted that, for sportswear, accessories and leathers, Barbera uses other suppliers and artisans.
Carola Barbera said, “Luciano Barbera is proud of its rich tradition of excellence in Italian manufacturing that my father and grandfather Carlo Barbera originated nearly 65 years ago. Our partnership with Tengram will accelerate the company’s ability to deliver our handcrafted products to many more discerning customers around the world.”
The Connecticut-based Tengram is a private-equity firm that has investments in Robert Graham, Laura Geller Beauty and Sequential Brands Group. Formerly known as Windsong Brands, the firm bought a stake in Robert Graham in June 2011 and, since that time, has doubled its volume by licensing the name into a number of different categories and opening several stores.