Byline: Sara Gay Forden, and Karyn Monget, New York

MILAN — As it moves aggressively into retailing, Gruppo La Perla SpA is also thinking about going public.
The Italian luxury lingerie maker, which opened its first company-owned store last week in New York, said it has hired J.P. Morgan to study the potential for a listing on the Milan stock market. If the offering goes forward, La Perla would become the first Italian firm in the intimate apparel sector to be publicly traded, and one of the few family-owned apparel companies in the country to seek a listing.
Other listed companies in the textile and apparel business are silk producer Ratti SpA, sportswear makers Benetton SpA and Stefanel SpA, and fabric and apparel giant Marzotto SpA.
Bologna-based La Perla, which is run by the founder’s son, Alberto Masotti, announced the development in response to persistent rumors here that Masotti has put the company up for sale.
“There is absolutely no intention to sell the La Perla group,” the company said. Sources close to La Perla have conceded, however, that the firm is interested in finding a partner, a move some observers here interpret as the first step toward a sale. Rumor has it that La Perla received an attractive offer from an American buyer two years ago, but turned it down. The company denied the report at the time.
The possibility of going public comes just as La Perla begins opening company-owned stores in key U.S. and Italian cities. The 1,500-square-foot store in New York opened Friday at 777 Madison Ave., between East 66th and 67th Streets. By the end of this month, stores will have opened on Rome’s Via Condotti and Milan’s Via Montenapoleone; a store in Venice is planned for a December opening.
For early 1995, a boutique is on tap for Paris, according to Masotti, who was interviewed while in New York for the store opening there.
Exact opening dates — even for the imminent November debuts — are still not set.
In addition to its own stores, La Perla has an international network of 30 franchised boutiques that carry the La Perla name and sell primarily La Perla goods, although the stores are free to carry other merchandise as well. They are in Europe and also extend to other countries, including Kuwait and Brazil.
“Opening more franchises around the world will be one of the solutions to growing our business. More international markets are opening up to luxury goods,” said Masotti, noting that Latin America is a prime area.
Masotti projected first-year sales for the New York store at $2 million.
The shop, which was designed by Paolo Cermasi, is replete with luxury features — hand-blown Venetian glass handles and door knobs, white marble floors and gold-leaf painted counters.
“Consumers want to shop for lingerie in an environment that is compatible with the product,” said Masotti. “One of the best examples has been at Harrods in London this year. When they opened a La Perla corner, sales were quadrupled.”
The combined cost of reconstructing and decorating the New York shop’s interior was about $500,000, said Jolanda Marini, fashion coordinator for the unit.
Prices of items carrying the La Perla label in the shop range from $95 for briefs to $250 for bodysuits.
In addition, the store carries the firm’s innerwear labels Malitzia and Marvel, reflecting its diversification into less expensive merchandise; a made-to-order collection of lingerie and sleepwear called Maison La Perla; La Perla swimwear, fragrance and hosiery, and cocktail dresses and evening gowns under the Ritmo di Perla label.
In 1993, La Perla reported sales of $263.4 million (410 billion lire), down 12 percent from 1992. La Perla derives some 20 percent of its sales from exports.
For this year, Masotti talked about a “very modest” increase.
“The huge growth in international business had been offset by the recession in Italy,” he said. “The situation will be much better for us in 1995, due to Italy getting out of a recession and building our international base.”

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