London-based private equity firm Emerisque on Wednesday for the first time confirmed its interest in acquiring bankrupt Hartmarx Corp., but its openness to buying the firm has a stiff deadline — today.

This story first appeared in the May 21, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In confirming the presence of the company’s offer, a spokeswoman told WWD, “This is Emerisque’s third and final bid in a process, which has been lengthy and increasingly expensive for all parties. We have established a May 21 expiration for our bid because we believe that a speedy resolution is the best strategy to preserve value for all of the company’s stakeholders.

“We believe we have done everything possible within the constraints of this process to enable a rapid consummation of a transaction with us,” she continued.

Financial sources familiar with the bidding said they had expected a stalking horse bid to be named next week, although now it is unclear what might happen due to the reentry of Emerisque. Before the British firm submitted its final bid, bankers were working on a combination of the best of the bids from New York-based Mistral Equity Partners and Los Angeles-based Yucaipa. That would send the Hart Schaffner Marx and Hickey Freeman brands to Yucaipa and the balance of its other brands, such as the women’s lines, to Mistral.

The Emerisque spokeswoman noted, “We believe in the potential and future growth of the Hartmarx family of brands, and recognize the value of a ‘Made in America’ label in the United States and in markets around the world. Emerisque’s strategy is to operate the business as a single going concern, which it believes will provide the greatest opportunity for weathering the economic climate while positioning the company for future growth.

“We hope that the company and its lenders agree that Emerisque’s going concern bid should be selected as the stalking horse bid,” she said.

Last week Chicago-based Hartmarx, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection on Jan. 23, was granted by the bankruptcy court in Chicago a 180-day extension of its exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization until Nov. 23, to file a plan, and until next Jan. 22 to solicit creditors’ approval. It was also granted a three-month extension, until Aug. 21, for when it has to decide which leases to assume or reject.