* CEO says new licence deal to be announced soon
* Says Qatari investments an opportunity for partnerships
* Sees revenue stable, small profit in 2012
By Antonella Ciancio
MILAN, Nov 28 Italian fashion manufacturing
group Ittierre is close to signing a licence deal with a leading
French group this month, part of an effort to recover from past
financial troubles that includes a new brand porfolio and a
retail overhaul, its head told Reuters.
"We are close to announcing a very important license deal,"
Chief Executive Antonio Bianchi said at Ittierre's offices. He
declined to discuss details, beyond saying the deal would be
announced soon and that it involved an unlisted, family-run
French company. He also indicated Ittierre was looking at other
Ittierre makes clothing and accessories for Tommy Hilfiger,
Karl Lagerfeld Paris, Galliano and other brands. Owning
manufacturing and distribution processes is a key advantage for
the company, especially during an economic slowdown.
Fashion can usually resist slowdowns, because it caters to
the wealthy, but it's feeling the pinch of southern Europe's
prolonged recession, which is starting to threaten France as
Global sales growth of luxury goods is expected to slow to
just 5 percent this year from 13 percent in 2011, at constant
exchange rates, according to consultancy Bain & Co and Italian
luxury body Altagamma.
"The economic situation in Europe is very difficult and
France is next in line," Bianchi said. "Shops in Italy are empty
and recent weeks have not shown any improvement. We are seeking
partners, opening new stores, all this in a very challenging
Wealthy shoppers from China, Russia and the Middle East are
keeping the industry afloat, Bianchi said. He added that he was
looking with interest at possible partnerships with Qatari
investors that are eyeing deals in Italy.
"I see many acquisitions of brands coming," he said.
Ittierre's parent company, IT Holding, nearly went bankrupt
during the 2009 financial meltdown. In January 2011, Ittierre
was sold to Bianchi's Albisetti, a family-owned company that has
made fine underwear for luxury brands for over 30 years.
After booming in the '90s, the fashion licence industry
suffered during the last recession when fashion houses such as
Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli bought back their licences
to better control image and revenues. Ittierre lost Just
Cavalli, the young-focused line that Cavalli now makes with
Diesel founder Renzo Rosso.
Despite the current slump, Bianchi said he was confident of
attracting new brands because 80 percent of the group's
production is in Italy, where it controls the process from
manufacturing to distribution.
Since last year, Ittierre has added American brand Tommy
Hilfiger and France's Karl Lagerfeld Paris, Aquascutum and
Pierre Balmain to its staple nine-brand portfolio.
The new collections, which include high-profile top lines,
will help Ittierre be profitable this year and report stable
revenues for 155 million euros ($200 million), he said.
Combined-group sales are expected to reach 195 million euros.
Bianchi said Ittierre would also benefit from the opening of
up to new 40 stores over the next two to three years. The
company, which sells from Asia to the United States, has
recently opened new shops called HIT Gallery, which offer all
the licenses owned by Ittierre and Albisetti in a single store.
The format blends the traditional format of shops directly
managed by single houses with multi-brand stores, which offer
more brands but are hobbled by a dispersed distribution chain.
($1 = 0.7733 euros)
(Reporting by Antonella Ciancio; editing by Larry King)