BULGARI-BACKED OPERA SPA SEES VALENTINO AS GOOD FIT
Byline: Courtney Colavita
MILAN — Italian jeweler Bulgari may not be interested in Valentino, but it now appears the closed-end fund backed by Bulgari, Opera SpA, could be courting the Roman fashion house.
An Opera spokesman told WWD: “Valentino would fit well into Opera’s acquisition profile to invest in brands that represent the Italian lifestyle.”
However, he added that no formal measures had been taken. “Valentino is just one of many possible investments Opera is considering,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali SpA, which controls Valentino, Fila, GFT Net, Joseph Abboud and publishing house Rizzoli Corriere della Sera, said she had no comment.
The future of HdP’s floundering fashion arm has been fodder for the rumor mill since last year. Industry sources have named everyone from Gucci to Valentino himself as possible contenders for Valentino.
Opera, which was launched last year under the auspices of Bulgari’s chief executive officer Francesco Trapani, is the latest front-runner in the acquisition game. Currently, Bulgari controls 50 percent of Opera’s management, but it is just one of several private and industrial investors, which include Verizon Bell Atlantic and Deutsch Bank.
Opera’s aim is to infuse medium-sized Italian lifestyle companies with capital, and help them grow. Since April, it has bought majority stakes in Italian watchmaker, Sector, Italian boat manufacturer, Itama, and San-Francisco-based specialty-food retailer, A.G. Ferrari.
While Opera may be interested in Valentino, it may not necessarily have the funds to buy 100 percent of the company. It’s unclear what Valentino would fetch on the market today, but HdP paid $300 million for the fashion house in 1998.
Opera is reported to have raised close to $250 million, and of that, it has spent close to half on recent acquisitions. (Dollar figures are converted from Italian lire at current exchange rates.)
When asked whether there were sufficient funds to buy Valentino, a spokesman said Opera’s strategy is to buy a majority stake in a company, rather than buy the company in its entirety. That would leave the door open for a partner — possibly even one with Valentino and his longtime business partner Giancarlo Giammetti.
As reported, industry sources said Valentino and Giammetti were looking to buy back the company they founded 41 years ago, with help from a strategic or financial partner. Giammetti, however, has denied this. Neither Giammetti nor Valentino could be reached for comment.
Whether Opera pens a deal or not, the pressure is on for HdP’s ceo Maurizio Romiti to cut loose the fashion division. The core shareholders of the syndicate that controls HdP have an option to quit the syndicate, if they want, at the end of the year. It’s no secret that those shareholders — led by Fiat — want HdP to focus on publishing. Market sources say that option is a clear message to Romiti to sell off the fashion companies, or lose his most powerful shareholders.