Byline: Samantha Conti / Robert Murphy

MILAN — Fear that his clothing label would eventually disappear drove Nino Cerruti to sell the business he founded more than 40 years ago to his new, acquisitions-hungry partner, Fin.part.
“Fashion has become complex and costly. You need to have capital to grow, and our cash flow was insufficient,” the designer told WWD in an interview late last week. “We are living in a world where you cannot stay in the same place. Either you develop or you disappear.”
It didn’t take Cerruti long to decide on a partner. Sources here say talks with Fin.part — and other groups, including Marzotto and Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali — began earlier this year.
“It was the appropriate time to sell. The next three years will be dynamic — – the economy promises to be good — and it’s the moment to take advantage of that.”
As reported, Cerruti sold a 51 percent stake in his fashion house to the Italian company Fin.part, owner of the Maska and Frette brands, for approximately $70 million. Fin.part, which is quoted on the Milan bourse, bought a 37 percent stake from the Cerruti family for $40 million, and acquired the remaining 14 percent for $30 million, under the terms of a capital increase.
The sale does not include Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti, the high-end Italian fabric mill that was founded in 1881. That property will remain in the Cerruti family.
Now that Cerruti has money to spare — Fin.part has deep pockets, and big plans to expand its fashion business — he can’t help but think about the future. Over the next three years, he said, the house plans to double its wholesale business by increasing distribution and the number of franchises. There are also plans to plump up Cerruti’s small accessories business, launch a homewear line — with help from the luxury linens company Frette — and invest more in marketing and advertising.
Wholesale volume of all goods sold under the Cerruti name is expected to reach $250 million this year. Licensed products generate $182 million. In 1999, consolidated sales were $66 million; 15 percent came from royalty payments. A statement from Fin.part said Cerruti’s company has been valued at $109 million.
Gianluigi Facchini, an owner of Fin.part, is on an aggressive acquisitions campaign, and told WWD earlier this year that he was hunting, in particular, for a high-end men’s wear label. He said he sees Cerruti as “a true luxury brand, on the same plane as Frette,” and said he is anxious to start hammering out strategies with Cerruti.
Fin.part has been producing Cerruti’s jeans line for six years under license through its Pepper Industries division. “We already have a lucrative relationship, and we’re looking forward to collaborating on more projects,” Facchini said. “And I’m not only talking about money. We formed this partnership because we have common values and a similar approach to the business.”
In buying Cerruti, Fin.part not only purchased a brand name, it purchased production and distribution muscle as well. Cerruti has three men’s wear factories, four wholly owned boutiques — in Milan, Paris, Monaco and New York — and 60 franchises. France is currently Cerruti’s largest market, followed by Germany, Great Britain and the Far East.
Cerruti called the deal more of a “partnership” than a traditional acquisition. “Fin.part understands the intrinsic quality of the brand. We are in agreement about how to preserve the house’s selective distribution and quality of taste,” Cerruti said, adding that his label was about “men and women feeling young, but doing it with a certain class.”
Cerruti will continue as artistic director and president of the company, and his son Julian will serve as his assistant. “Family remains at the heart of the house,” said Cerruti. “We will be able to preserve our essence. I think fashion should be about real values that have continuity. Unfortunately, so many big fashion houses today have lost that.”
He added there would be no immediate changes in the design studio. The top women’s line, known as Cerruti Arte, is designed by Peter Speliopoulos. That, and the Cerruti 1881 women’s diffusion line, are produced and distributed under license by Kemper, a subsidiary of the Escada Group. Other licensees include Elizabeth Arden for fragrances and Rodenstock for eyewear.
The Cerruti family business began as a textile mill in the northwestern Italian town of Biella and was founded by Nino’s grandfather in 1881. After the death of Nino’s father Silvio in 1950, Nino — who was 20 years old at the time — took over the family business. It was Nino who decided to expand into ready-to-wear and he launched his first men’s wear collection, Hitman, in 1957. In 1968, he unveiled his first women’s collection in Paris.
Cerruti has said he loves his double life as a textile manufacturer and fashion designer. “I love the ambiguity, the continuous confrontation between catwalk and factory and the two very different environments,” he told W in 1998. “Italy is home, but Paris is my stage.”
Little-known outside Italy, Fin.part owns Frette, Maska and a series of sportswear brands including Marina Yachting, Henry Cotton’s, Moncler and Best Company. Facchini and his business partner Giancarlo Arnaboldi purchased Fin.part in 1996. The company had sales of approximately $117.2 million in the first six months ending June 30. All figures are translated at current exchange.
In a move to focus more on its fashion business, Fin.part sold its Bonaparte hotel division earlier this year for approximately $136 million. That money, together with another $50 million from warrants issued in 1998, has been earmarked for fashion and luxury acquisitions.

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