ARMANI DENIES GUCCI A SUITOR

Byline: Samantha Conti

MILAN — Is Gucci drafting plans to buy Giorgio Armani SpA? The answer, once again, is no.
An Armani spokesman on Thursday quickly dismissed feverish press reports that Gucci was preparing to swap a large chunk of its shares for a controlling stake in the Milan-based fashion house. He called the report, published in the daily paper Il Giornale and rewritten by some U.S. publications, “idle speculation.”
A spokesman for Gucci Group NV said the company does not comment on rumors. However, a highly reliable industry source in Milan said there was “absolutely, positively no foundation” to the story. “It is totally false.”
The story outlined a scenario that has been making the rounds here for months, that Gucci would hand Giorgio Armani a 20 to 30 percent stake in the group in exchange for control of the house. The story added that, as a result of the hypothetical deal, Pinault Printemps Redoute’s 42 percent stake in Gucci would be diluted and both Armani and PPR would have an equal stake in Gucci Group.
But the likelihood of PPR giving up such an equity stake is remote, sources indicated. A PPR spokesman said the company does not comment on rumors, but an informed source in Paris said flatly that “PPR would not be willing to decrease its stake in Gucci Group.”
PPR is Gucci’s largest shareholder, and last year gave the company a $2.9 billion cash injection to build a world-class luxury goods group. So far, Gucci has acquired the Sanofi beauty brands, Yves Saint Laurent and Sergio Rossi. Earlier this week, it announced it had purchased Boucheron.
This is not the first time rumors about a Gucci-Armani marriage have surfaced. Earlier this year, a storm erupted over Italian press reports quoting Armani as saying he was in talks with Gucci and LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton about a possible sale to guarantee the future of his label. “There is nothing in the works,” an Armani spokesman said in a February story.
At the moment, the future of the house of Armani is still a big question — and one that only the designer can resolve. As reported, Armani’s managing director Pino Brusone stepped down in March over what industry sources say was a conflict over future plans for the house.
Brusone wanted to sell to LVMH or Gucci Group, and Armani, apparently, was reluctant.