MILAN Italy's luxury underwear maker La Perla has entered exclusive talks with fashion group Calzedonia over the sale of a controlling stake that would help the loss-making group relaunch on international markets.
The companies said in a joint statement on Tuesday that they would examine the terms of a possible tie-up with the aim of preserving jobs in Italy while opening stores in Asia, Russia and Latin America. No financial details were released.
Founded in 1956 by a corset-maker in the city of Bologna, La Perla was bought in 2008 by U.S. private equity fund JH Partners, which has invested around 50 million euros ($65 million) in the firm.
The company has been looking for possible partners since the end of 2012 as it needs liquidity to cut debt and open 160 stores over the next three years.
Also known for its 500-euro ($650) lace corsets, La Perla booked revenues of 107 million euros in 2012, slightly below a year before. First-quarter sales were in line with 2012, it said.
La Perla is among Italian brands seeking investors to fund their retail expansion abroad at a time of limited access to credit and declining sales at home.
The group sells over 67 percent of its products in Europe, with Asia accounting for 16 percent and the U.S. 17 percent.
Italy's Calzedonia, which also owns the Intimissimi and Tezenis underwear brands and competes with Italy's Yamamay, is distributed in 30 countries through a franchising sale network.
Similar to retail chains like H&M (HMb.ST) and Inditex's (ITX.MC) Zara, Calzedonia offers colorful lingerie and beachwear at affordable prices with a strong focus on fashion.
Trade unions at La Perla welcomed news of the talks as they fear for the future of around 300 La Perla workers in Italy.
"Calzedonia is a textile and fashion group and knows what they are doing. And it helps that it is Italian," Rossana Carra of the Femca Cisl union told Reuters after a meeting with the company's management in Bologna. ($1 = 0.7642 euros)
(Reporting by Valentina Accardo and Antonella Ciancio; Editing by Chris Reese)