LONDON — This was one pair of shoes that just didn’t fit.
Kering is close to finding a buyer for its Italian luxury shoe label Sergio Rossi, one of its smallest properties that was overshadowed by megabrands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen as well as hot newcomers such as Christopher Kane.
WWD has learned there are at least three potential bidders in sight for the brand that was founded by shoemaker Sergio Rossi in the Fifties. Gucci Group, which has since been folded into Kering, snapped up a majority stake in the brand in 1999 during an aggressive acquisitions drive masterminded by Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford. The group eventually took full control in 2004, the year after De Sole, then president and chief executive officer, and Ford, formerly creative director, said they were leaving.
Private equity firms Lion Capital and Emerisque are said to be among the top contenders, as is Investindustrial, the European strategic investment house founded by Italian financier Andrea C. Bonomi. Exclusive negotiations with one of those firms could begin as early as July, before Kering lays out its half-year results at the end of the month.
A Kering spokeswoman declined to comment, as did the three companies said to be in the running.
On Feb. 13, WWD first reported that Kering was quietly preparing a sale process for the Italian footwear company, confident it could get a good price.
Later that month, Kering confirmed the brand was undergoing a strategic review, and François-Henri Pinault, chairman and ceo of the French luxury and lifestyle group, also said selling was an option.
Although Kering is still courting suitors for the brand, Sergio Rossi appears to be as good as sold: The French firm’s financial document for 2014 shows that Rossi was classified among the “noncurrent assets held for sale and discontinued operations” in its consolidated financial statement for the year, alongside the group’s former mail-order division Redcats.
Jean-François Palus, group managing director at Kering, said it had not given a bank a mandate to conduct the strategic review process, adding that this was being handled internally. It is understood that a boutique advisory firm is working on the deal.
Kering reported a net loss of 479 million euros, or $637 million, from discontinued operations during 2014, of which a loss of 355 million euros, or $472 million, was related to Redcats, the sale of which was finalized in December with the disposal of its Diam and Movitex units.
“The remainder of the overall net loss from discontinued operations reported by the group in 2014 mainly comprised the net loss posted by Sergio Rossi, in particular a write down against the residual value of the brand for 52 million euros [or $69 million],” it added.
Last week, Barclays in London estimated the sales and earnings before interest and taxes breakdown of all the brands in Kering’s “other luxury” category. Sergio Rossi generates 5 percent of sales in the category, compared with Balenciaga, 21 percent; McQueen, 15 percent; Stella McCartney, 10 percent; Brioni, 13 percent; Boucheron, 9 percent; and Christopher Kane, 1 percent.
Kering’s put annual revenues of its “other luxury division” at 1.4 billion, or $1.9 billion at average exchange. According to Barclays’ estimate, that would put Sergio Rossi’s revenues at about 71 million euros, or approximately $95 million.
Barclays appeared upbeat regarding Kering’s smaller brands, however: “Each luxury brand has the added advantage of shared expertise. We see this as a significant competitive advantage for the growth potential of the smaller brands in particular in terms of supply chain and logistics.”
Despite its contribution to Kering’s coffers, Sergio Rossi did not even warrant mention during the third-quarter results presentation last October, when a bundle of labels, including Balenciaga, Boucheron, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen registered sales growth of 2.2 percent to 362 million euros, or $480.2 million.
The brand had recently seen a revolving door of managers and designers, with creative director Francesco Russo exiting in 2013. Angelo Ruggeri replaced him.
Sergio Rossi counts about 90 stores around the world, along with wholesale distribution to such retailers as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Lane Crawford and Harrods.
All three potential suitors have strong ties to the fashion and luxury business. Each could potentially spin the state-of-the-art and little-used Sergio Rossi factory in San Mauro Pascoli, Italy, into a manufacturing and branded gold mine. The facility is situated in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, the country’s leather goods heartland.
Investindustrial has stakes in Aston Martin, Gruppo Coin, Perfume Holding and the luxury lighting firm Flos, while the Britain-based Lion Capital is the former owner of Jimmy Choo, and its current holdings include AllSaints, John Varvatos Enterprises and GHD.
Emerisque owns Italy’s Industries Sportswear Company SpA, parent of Marina Yachting and Henry Cotton’s. It also owns the men’s sportswear label MCS, formerly known as Marlboro Classics.
Sergio Rossi is not the first footwear firm to be spun off in recent months: Earlier this year, Marquee Brands LLC said it was taking control of Bruno Magli, founded in Bologna in 1936, and Coach Inc. said it would acquire Stuart Weitzman from Sycamore Partners in a transaction valued at $574 million.