Monday, October 26, 2009

UAE shiekh likely to buy French fashion house Christian Lacroix

A SHIEKH from the United Arab Emirates is likely to take over Christian Lacroix, the loss-making French fashion house, tomorrow when his 100 million euros ($163m) rescue deal goes before the Paris Commercial Court.

Sheikh Hassan bin Ali al-Nuaimi, a nephew of the ruler of Ajman, the smallest member of the UAE, has emerged as a clear favourite to become owner of the designer.

Lacroix's house went into administration in May after filing for protection from creditors as the global crisis hit its already weak finances.

Rival offers have been submitted by Bernard Krief Consulting, of France, and the Financiere Saint-Germain, a holding company that owns Daum and Lalique, the crystalware makers.

The proposition from a sheikh with few international investments surprised observers in France. But Regis Valliot, the administrator, said that "it fulfils perfectly all the necessary criteria. It is the fantastic solution we dared not hope for."

Borletti Group, the Italian owner of the La Rinascente retail chain and Lacroix's first choice as a partner, dropped out of the race after the sheikh's move.

His offer includes an injection of €70m into the business and a pledge to take on all 124 employees, with debts of €14m to suppliers and part of €30m that it owes to the Falic Group, Lacroix's Florida-based owner.

The overall sum injected by the sheikh will be about €100m, according to Mr Valliot.

"On the face of it, there seems to be little suspense," industry insiders in Paris said. "The sheikh's offer is by far the most solid."

Mr Nuaimi said that he wanted to diversify the business. "The idea is not to focus on fashion by itself,” he said.

“We are discussing different activities in leisure ... private jets, hotels, high-quality yachts, palaces and interior decoration. We will focus on very exclusive areas and don't want to sell his name cheap in the market.

“Christian Lacroix is one of the lords of fashion design in the world ... but, on another side, as a businessman he has a lot of problems. We will run it better commercially."

Lacroix himself would become a minority shareholder in the house under the terms of the deal. Despite a glowing reputation and widespread admiration for his colourful, often baroque style, Lacroix has never made a profit in 22 years of trading.

Last year, losses reached €10m on sales of €30m.Falic, an American duty free retailer that bought Christian Lacroix from LVMH, the French luxury goods group, in 2005, has put forward a restructuring plan, which involves shedding the haute couture line and cutting the workforce to 12.

The plan provoked fury in France, when Frederic Mitterrand, the Culture Minister, said that the loss of the fashion label would be a "cultural disaster".

Christian Estrosi, the Industry Minister, also promised backing for a designer whom he described as a "flagship for haute couture", which had "contributed to fame of French elegance and skill".

Ajman has followed Dubai with a huge real estate development program, which includes shopping centres, hotels and residential areas. But, like Dubai, it has suffered from the economic slowdown this year.

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