Finding the Right Fit: Smaller Brands Thrive Under New Ownership

Having the right parent or owner has become a hot-button issue in the luxury goods industry, with plenty of failures and successes to talk about.

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PARIS — Even in luxury goods, father typically knows best. But it depends on who's your daddy.

Take Karl Lagerfeld. The designer didn't mince words when asked about the qualifications of the assorted companies that have owned and managed his signature business in the past.

"The Bidermann [Industries U.S.A.] people were fighting with each other, never delivered and made big mistakes because the late Eighties were not the Seventies any longer," he said matter-of-factly, recalling a licensing deal that ended in 1987. "[They were] terrible parents; parents who thought they knew better, but had no idea."

Later in the Nineties, under the then-Vendome division of Compagnie Financière Richemont, Lagerfeld's business knew some better years. "But then they put in a new management and that was a disaster," the designer recounted.

Having the right parent or owner has become a hot-button issue for the industry at a time when Lagerfeld's label is now owned by Tommy Hilfiger Corp., and Christian Lacroix, after struggling for 18 years under LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is gunning for better fortunes with the Florida-based travel retail firm Falic Group. And with Prada Group mulling whether to put Helmut Lang on the block, that brand also could find itself adopted anew.

What's more, Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, in May said he might again be ready to welcome some new brands into his group, predicting some of his "important" competitors would fall on tough times and that he would be ready to buy "at the right price."

In the near term, though, Arnault has been selling off smaller brands like Lacroix. The Falic family, which bought the brand, has ambitious expansion plans for it, especially in America. "We think it's very well positioned," Simon Falic, chairman of the Falic Group, told WWD earlier this month. "So much money has been invested in this brand, and Mr. Lacroix is such a highly regarded talent in the fashion industry. I honestly believe we can double the sales volume in five years, maybe sooner."

A large part of that will come in the U.S., where Falic already has plans to open a Lacroix store at the Forum Shops in Las Vegas, perhaps by yearend, and afterward in New York and other cities.
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