By Samantha Conti and Miles Socha
with contributions from Jean E. Palmieri
 on December 14, 2020
Matthew Goode in Pink Shirtmaker's fall 2019 campaign

LONDON — Well, that was fast.

Just two years after a much-touted relaunch under longtime LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton executive Christopher Zanardi-Landi, Pink Shirtmaker is being wound down and sold off.

Sources said a sale process is ongoing and the London stores, which shut during lockdown, will not reopen. The web site has also ceased trading. According to sources, LVMH is talking to potential bidders, with a sale process being run out of Paris. The process is said to be advanced, with serious bidders in the mix.

LVMH declined to comment on the sale speculation.

The French luxury group purchased the brand in 1999 during a buying spree that saw it snap up brands including Tag Heuer, and attempt a takeover of Gucci, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Kering, then known as PPR, later purchased Gucci — and went on a buying spree of its own.

Pink was founded as Thomas Pink in 1984 by three Irish brothers — James, Peter and John Mullen — in the go-go years as London was becoming a financial market mecca under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

With its bright, patterned shirts, ties and men’s accessories, Thomas Pink quickly became the buzzy, brash and nouveau riche alternative to the more staid Jermyn Street shirtmakers that had defined the City of London look. Pink promised Jermyn Street quality at a fraction of the price as the Mullens used similar fabrics but the shirts were made in Ireland. Initially launched as a men’s wear brand, Pink added women’s wear at a later stage.

It had always been a small, low-key brand in the LVMH stable until its makeover two years ago by its president and chief executive officer Zanardi-Landi, who’d worked around the world for LVMH and for companies including Cartier, Dunhill and Lanvin.

Zanardi-Landi tapped the top men’s designer John Ray, who’d previously worked at Gucci and Dunhill, to add a luxe ready-to-wear collection to the mix. He offered up corduroy and wool trousers, cashmere knits, and soft tailoring, not to mention jazzy socks and knitted ties.

Together with Ray, Zanardi-Landi spiffed up the stores, turning them into open spaces as comfortable as hotel suites, with an air of ease and elegance. The two put a fresh spin on everything from packaging and production to retail and the in-store experience.

Zanardi-Landi and Ray worked closely for 18 months to refine the look of the shirts, too: Seams were sturdy, collars were sewn rather than glued, while the designs had pink gussets at the sides to avoid any risk of unsightly gaping. Prices started at 130 pounds for a white, button-cuff business shirt, a reasonable price for a luxury product.

A little over a year ago, the company tapped the hot British actor Matthew Goode to be the brand’s ambassador. He featured in Pink’s fall 2019 campaign, which made its debut on London’s Piccadilly Circus display screen, and his debut coincided with the launch of a Pink bespoke line, which had its own workshop in London’s Vauxhall.

There was a major sustainability angle, too. The Pink packaging had no plastic wrapping, clips, pins or cardboard stuffing. Instead, Pink packaged its shirts and other clothing in soft cotton zipper bags or cotton garment bags with hangers made from plant pulp. Boxes were durable and 100 percent recyclable, made in the U.K. with dyed, rather than printed, paper. Everything was designed to be reused.

The ceo also ditched the “Thomas” and re-branded it Pink to reflect its more modern flavor.

In retrospect, Pink was already doomed due to the progressive casualization of men’s wear, the disappearance of the necktie and the formal suit for finance bigwigs and office workers alike.

Zanardi-Landi compensated for those trends and stocked the racks and shelves at Pink’s stores on Jermyn Street and the King’s Road with less formal fare. But it was clearly not enough to sustain the business through lockdown, when collared shirts gave way to T-shirts and hoodies.

Ray left the company in February, and once the two London stores and the Heathrow Terminal 4 unit locked down in March, they did so for good, with online sales unable to sustain the business.

Pink is not alone. Brooks Brothers declared bankruptcy and earlier this year was sold to SPARC Group, the tie-up between licensing company Authentic Brands Group and mall operator Simon Property Group.

Even a small-scale sale such as this one is likely to attract interest from ABG, Marquee Brands and Chinese players that specialize in IP and subcontracting. Marquee said: “We can’t give comment on what’s real or rumor, as it relates to possible and pending deals or acquisitions.”

Sources say a buyer might come forward in the U.S., where Pink was a rare operator in premium shirts, although any new owner would have to find a robust market, somewhere, for dress shirts.

LVMH rarely sells its brands, but it’s getting more accustomed to doing so. Earlier this year it parted ways with Nicholas Kirkwood, who is in the process of taking back control and ownership of his company.

That parting of ways was mutual and amicable, with LVMH planning to support and reshape the business in the coming months to ensure a smooth transition. LVMH had acquired a majority stake in Kirkwood’s high-end footwear business in 2013, part of a spate of acquisitions by the big luxury groups of edgy, young brands.