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* Designer Gaultier ended creative ties with Hermes last yr
* Jean-Paul Gaultier sales 2010 estimated at 26 mln euros
* Gaultier company still slightly loss making
(Adds details, analyst comment, background)
By Astrid Wendlandt and Lionel Laurent
PARIS, April 1 Hermes (HRMS.PA) is looking to sever longstanding ties with star designer Jean-Paul Gaultier as the French luxury group has begun talks to sell its 45 percent stake in the Gaultier fashion brand.
Hermes, which had raised its stake in Jean-Paul Gaultier to 45 percent in 2008 from 35 percent, said on Friday it had been approached by potential buyers and was studying all options.
Analysts estimate the stake to be worth several million euros and expect its disposal to have only a minor impact on Hermes revenues.
Gaultier, known for sailor themed outfits, is looking for investors to expand in regions such as Asia, Les Echos reported on Friday.
But a source close to Gaultier said it was Hermes which was keen to sell its stake.
Gaultier still controls his company and remains one of the longest enduring French designers alongside Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel.
The Gaultier fashion brand, founded in 1976, makes the bulk of its revenues from licence deals, particularly perfume.
Its sales climbed back last year to about 26 million euros, up from 23 million euros in 2009 but the company is still slightly loss making. Gaultier has some 30 boutiques worldwide.
Back in 1998, Gaultier had generated 13 million euros in revenues.
Gaultier, who designed womenswear collections for Hermes, left the group last year following the death of Jean-Louis Dumas, Hermes's former charismatic head who had hired him.
Gaultier, whose ties to Hermes date back to 1999 when the group took a 35 percent stake in his company, had called his departure from Hermes "the end of a love story."
Gaultier was replaced by Lacoste's Christophe Lemaire whose first collection presented in March was well received by the fashion press. [ID:nLDE7222B9]
"Gaultier quit as creative director last year, which would give some logic to this decision," Vontobel analyst Jean-Philippe Bertschy said about Hermes move to sell its holding. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Graphic on European luxury goods sector comparison: r.reuters.com/fuh48r Graphic on M&A league tables: r.reuters.com/kyb46q BREAKINGVIEWS-Arnault bags Bulgari: [ID:nLDE7260RP] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
LUXURY DEALS BACK IN FASHION
Consolidation has returned this year to the luxury sector after the industry bounced back from the 2009 slump much faster than analysts expected.
LVMH, controlled by billionaire Bernard Arnault, last month agreed to acquire Italian peer Bulgari BULG.MI after building up a 20.2 percent stake in Hermes.
Positive investor sentiment is also encouraging unlisted groups to consider floating on the stock market. Italy's Prada has applied for a Hong Kong IPO which could value it at around 8 billion euros and allow it to draw Asian investors. [ID:nLDE72U1RX]
Hermes shares were flat at 154.95 euros by 0904 GMT. (Editing by Christian Plumb and Jane Merriman)