According to sources, Stroll and Chou, co-chairmen of Tommy Hilfiger Corp. and owners of Asprey and Garrard, have made a bid for the Italian design firm independent of Hilfiger Corp.
Stroll and Chou are bidding against Marzotto, which, as reported, is in “advanced talks” with Valentino’s parent, Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali, and Frey, a French financial company, said sources. Stroll and Chou are “feverishly” working on a deal and are eager to reinvigorate Valentino as a global powerhouse, they added.
Industry sources said Stroll and Chou see tremendous potential in both licensing and retail opportunities for the Valentino brand. They have reportedly met with investment bankers in Italy, as well as Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti.
Still, European sources maintain that Marzotto has the inside track for Valentino. As one source put it, “Matteo Marzotto and Michele Norsa are personally involved in the negotiations with HdP, which are moving ahead. There may be other companies in the running, but Marzotto still looks like the frontrunner.” Matteo Marzotto is the son of Umberto Marzotto and is the director of the Gianfranco Ferre division and the women’s apparel division at Marzotto. Michele Norsa is general director of Marzotto’s apparel division.
Meantime, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman Bernard Arnault recently dined with Valentino during couture week in Paris, fueling speculation that LVMH was interested in buying the design house to add to its stable. However, it is understood that Arnault’s presence was purely social, not business. LVMH recently completed its acquisition of Donna Karan and took majority control of Fendi and has repeatedly stated its intentions to focus mainly on organic growth.
An HdP spokeswoman reiterated Wednesday: “We are in talks with Italian and foreign groups, but there is no exclusive dealing with any specific company.” Stroll and Chou were unavailable for comment.
HdP purchased Valentino in 1998 for $300 million, three times the direct sales of the company and one of the highest multiples in the fashion business at the time. The acquisition was expected to be the first step in building a fashion and luxury group, but the company has been under pressure to sell off its fashion division known as GFT Net — which also includes Joseph Abboud.
In July 2000, Stroll and Chou bought Asprey & Garrard from the sultan’s Brunei Investment Agency for less than $152 million after three years of negotiations. In an interview last September about their plans for Asprey & Garrard, they predicted sales would approach $1 billion over the next five years and foresaw a slew of stores in top markets. Stroll and Chou have never made a secret of their excitement over owning Asprey & Garrard and said last year they wanted to build a luxury group that could rival LVMH, Bulgari, Prada, Gucci or Tiffany. They have some good help, including a small financial investment from LVMH.
Chou’s family is one of the largest knitters, yarn spinners and sweater manufacturers in the world and one of the top textile manufacturers in Asia. Besides being co-chairman of Hilfiger, Chou is chairman of Novel Denim Holdings. Both Chou and Stroll made their fortunes in part through Hilfiger’s stock offerings, as well.
Stroll and Chou made an unsuccessful bid last year for Brooks Bros., which landed in the hands of Retail Brand Alliance, headed by Claudio Del Vecchio.
Sources maintain that Stroll and Chou are still interested in buying the Calvin Klein Jeans and Underwear businesses from the bankrupt Warnaco Group. – Lisa Lockwood with contributions by Samantha Conti, London and Miles Socha, Paris.