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Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Italian designers warm up to idea of stock listing

AFP , MILAN, ITALY

Italy's leading fashion houses are increasingly looking to the stock market for the kind of financing needed to develop in the ever-competitive luxury sector, while keeping the business in the family.

Two leading Italian labels, Salvatore Ferragamo and Roberto Cavalli, announced last week plans to be quoted on the stock market from next year, unlike the trend of the 1990s when labels sought to join large groups.

At that time, Fendi and Emilio Pucci became part of French luxury goods group LVMH, while Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Sergio Rossi fell in with its rival, Pinault Printemps Redoute (PPR).

In 1998, veteran Italian designer Valentino sold the company he had established 40 years earlier to HPD, an Italian group quoted on the stock exchange, then to Marzotto in 2002 before selling 30 percent of its capital to Permira investment fund last month.

In 2000, the house of Gianfranco Ferre, who died last weekend after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage, had sold 90 percent of its capital to the Groupe Tonina Perna.

"These companies preferred to sell to better develop themselves," Armando Branchini, head of the InterCorporate consultants' company, said.

"They are often houses that have found themselves on the market for a long time, which have existed for several generations and which sometimes no longer find a successor," he said.

Today, however, several fashion houses that are still financially independent -- Versace, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo or Roberto Cavalli -- are tempted by the stock market.

"Currently in Italy there are many family businesses and also young companies whose future will be shaped more and more in the stock market and not in integrating into big luxury groups," Branchini said.

"Stock market flotation permits the keeping of a majority of the capital in family hands" and also to retain control of all aspects of the management, he said.

On Thursday, the president of Salvatore Ferragamo, Ferruccio Ferragamo, one of the founder's heirs, announced plans to introduce the company on the stock market next year.

It followed hard on the heels, a day earlier, of Roberto and Eva Cavalli's announcement that they were thinking of bringing a partner into their fashion house in order to be quoted on the stock market, but not for a year.

Ten years after the death of the designer Gianni Versace, the Versace label is still completely family-owned.

While his sister Donatella and brother Santo share 50 percent of the business, his niece Allegra holds the other half. But in recent months, the company has indicated it is mulling stock market quotation.

Prada, owned by the founder's niece Miuccia Prada, has twice abandoned plans to be floated on the stock market but said recently that it intended to be quoted in the near future.

Only Dolce and Gabbana and Giorgio Armani have rejected the stock market option, or an alliance with investors.

"At 70, I see it as a gift the fact that I continue to think and advance in an autonomous way, without somebody leading me by the hand," Armani said in 2004 shortly before his birthday.

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