GUCCI ON THE HUNT: IS BALENCIAGA THE NEXT TARGET?

Byline: Miles Socha / With contributions from Samantha Conti, Milan

PARIS — Gucci Group may have its eye on Balenciaga and its red-hot designer, Nicolas Ghesquiere.
Sources in Europe say the Italian group, which recently added Alexander McQueen to its stable, is in pursuit of the French firm, whose international stature has rocketed the past two years.
A Gucci spokesman declined to comment. Neither Ghesquiere nor Balenciaga executives could be reached for comment either.
Since 1986, Balenciaga has been owned by Groupe Jacques Bogart, controlled by the French entrepreneur Jacques Konckier and his family. And the house has maintained the press-shy habits of the famous Spanish-born couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga.
It is estimated that Balenciaga’s fashion and accessories business generates about $15 million at wholesale. The Konckier family also controls the Balenciaga fragrance business, which comprises five women’s scents, one unisex fragrance and a new men’s scent, Cristobal Homme.
Certainly, Balenciaga is ripe for expansion, and sources said the current owners have not yet made any major investment in expanding the network of Balenciaga stores or adopting any of the other tactics luxury groups employ today to gain direct control of manufacturing and distribution and to exploit brand equity.
Ghesquiere spent two years designing office uniforms and wedding and widows’ dresses for Balenciaga’s Japanese licensees when he was given the job of creating ready-to-wear. His first show was in October 1997.
Given his rising-star status and strong editorial profile, Ghesquiere’s name comes up frequently as a candidate for other high-profile design posts. But Ghesquiere has said he “feels good at Balenciaga” and has no intention to go “house jumping.”
“I want to have credibility and I want to have credibility at Balenciaga,” the designer told WWD, in an interview last October. “After that, I’ll do my own line.”
Ghesquiere signed a contract in March 1999, at the time to produce at least five more seasons for Balenciaga. Separately, he designs for Callaghan, but his outside profile is attached to Balenciaga. “My contract with Balenciaga is not exclusive, but I don’t want to go out on the runway twice in one season,” he said in October.
As for Gucci, the luxury house has been on an acquisition tear over the last year that’s rivaled only by its arch enemy, Bernard Arnault’s LVMH. Gucci has a cash pile of more than $2.5 billion — from strategic partner Pinault Printemps Redoute — that has been earmarked for acquisitions in its strategy to build its brand portfolio. Last year, Gucci Group purchased the luxury jeweler Boucheron, watchmaker Bedat & Co. and, in December, bought a 51 percent stake in McQueen. The group also owns Yves Saint Laurent and Sergio Rossi.

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