Fashion house Versace sells stake to Blackstone to fund growth

Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:30am EST
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By Isla Binnie

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian fashion house Versace is selling a 20 percent stake to U.S. private equity firm Blackstone (BX.N: Quote) for 210 million euros ($287 million), aiming to fund new shops and build on a recent recovery in sales before an eventual stock market listing.

The family-controlled brand, which chose pop singer Lady Gaga to promote it last year, struggled for years following the murder of founder Gianni Versace in 1997.

While it returned to profit in 2011, it has lacked the cash to expand rapidly in fast-growing markets abroad.

"This is a very large and very well-known brand so it could be revived ... but a lot of work has to be done on the creative side," Exane BNP Paribas analyst Luca Solca said in the wake of the deal on Thursday.

"The brand has to be updated and they need new ideas. With a minority stake it might not be possible to make these changes," he added, referring to the potential influence of Blackstone.

Versace, which had been gearing up for a listing before Gianni died, first flagged last April that it was considering opening up to outside investors.

The family does not want to relinquish control, a characteristic which has kept other Italian fashion brands like Giorgio Armani and Missoni in the hands of their founders, but which some analysts say has hampered their expansion.

"The vision is to maintain independence," Versace Chief Executive Gian Giacomo Ferraris told Reuters after announcing the deal.   Continued...

A sign is seen for high-end retail store Versace along 5th Avenue in New York May 19, 2013.REUTERS/Eric Thayer