BESTFORM EYEING EXQUISITE FORM LABEL
Byline: Karyn Monget
NEW YORK — Bestform Foundations is in talks to acquire the Exquisite Form label from a beleaguered Exquisite Form Industries, Marvin Bienenfeld, chairman of Bestform, confirmed last week.
He said late last week that he was unable to give details of the pending deal, but noted it should be completed in the next several weeks. The talks have been going on for five months.
“It has to be submitted to court for approval,” said Bienenfeld.
In the midst of the negotiations, UNITE, the apparel and textile workers union, and other creditors, former employees of Exquisite Form, filed an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition against Exquisite Form in Los Angeles, said Lawrence Zakson, an attorney representing the union.
Zakson, who oversees Exquisite Form’s pension fund, noted, “Employees were not being paid in the end, and there were large delinquencies.”
The Exquisite Form name — known mainly for its fashion and specialty bras for 40 years — is distributed primarily to major chains such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. and promotional department stores, including Mervyn’s.
Exquisite Form Industries’ annual 1995 sales volume of bras and shapewear was $30 million, according to industry estimates. In 1994, yearly sales were around $50 million.
Exquisite Form holds the three-year-old license to produce a licensed line of foundations under the Scaasi label, but a collection was never completed.
Industry observers said the Exquisite Form name would be a good fit with Bestform, a 71-year-old maker of bras and shapewear, especially with its moderate-price Bestform division. In addition to its moderate-price lines, Long Island City-based Bestform produces, markets and distributes foundations under the Lily of France label, as well as three licensees, Christian Dior, Natori and Josie.
The $200 million Bestform division includes the Enhance label, and the licensed Chic, Gitano and Lady Manhattan names.
While the transaction to buy the Exquisite Form name is expected to go through without glitches, industry insiders said it characterizes how consolidation has affected a mature industry — and the people working in it.
Exquisite Form — which is a U.S. subsidiary of Manila-based Royal Undergarments Corp. of the Philippines Inc. — closed its distribution operation in Ontario, Calif., in November. Exquisite Form was acquired by the Philippine company in 1982, according to a top former executive.
Contacted in Los Angeles, Janvier San Juan, who had been Exquisite Form’s president since 1986, said he resigned in late February.
The company closed its offices last fall in Purchase, N.Y., leaving a combined workforce of some 100 people without jobs in California and New York. The firm still maintains a showroom here at 38 East 32nd St.
San Juan summed up the situation this way: “There’s a lack of communication, and there are a lot of irate former employees — including myself.” He said his controversy with the company involved money.
Another former executive, Marvin Bernard, of Chicago, who was assistant vice president of sales and with the company for 33 years, said, “I got a call Nov. 3 telling me I was no longer with the company. Nobody has retuned my phone calls about wages owed to me. I have over $200,000 in my 401K plan, but I can’t get any information.”
Asked when former employees would receive answers to their queries, Thomas Panza, vice president of Exquisite Form at the New York showroom, said Friday, “I can’t really answer that.” He added, “There aren’t any funds right now…creditors will be paid out of the proceeds of the sale, when the contract [for a sale] is concluded. It’s all subject to court approval because of what’s going on.” However, he would not confirm that Bestform was the potential purchase of the brand.
Zakson — who noted that UNITE’s petition against Exquisite Form was filed in Los Angeles Nov. 7 — said the deadline for a response from the company is March 18.
“They have not filed an answer,” said Zakson. “At this point, we don’t know what their financial situation is.”