December 5, 2023

DealBook: Hermès in Talks for Potential Sale of Gaultier Stake

Hermès, the French maker of Birkin and Kelly handbags that is fending off advances from the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxury conglomerate, said Friday it had begun talks to sell its 45 percent stake in the Jean Paul Gaultier fashion house.

Hermès said it had received expressions of interest from potential buyers for its holding in the Gaultier brand, which has been recovering from a sharp drop in sales after the financial crisis that hurt its bottom line.

Christelle Denef, a spokeswoman for Hermès, said the announcement did not necessarily mean the company would sell its entire stake, but declined to elaborate.

Jelka Music, a spokeswoman for Gaultier, said: ‘‘We are aware that Hermès has been approached, but it is too early to say what will happen.’’

Jean-Louis Dumas, the former patriarch of Hermès, recruited Mr. Gaultier, who had a reputation as the bad boy of fashion, in 2003 to design ready-to-wear collections. His headline-grabbing couture included conical-shaped bras for Madonna and skirts for men.

While Mr. Gaultier brought buzz to the house, Hermès never built it into a hard-charging high-fashion group that would take on the likes of Gucci, owned by Pinault Printemps Redoute, or Christian Dior, owned by LVMH.

In fact, the LVMH chairman, Bernard Arnault, passed over Mr. Gaultier and hired the British designer John Galliano to revitalize the Dior fashion house 15 years ago. Soon after, Mr. Gaultier began to self-finance his own line.

Mr. Gaultier’s seven-year honeymoon with Hermès faded after Mr. Dumas’s death last May. Two months later, the designer ceded his role and was eventually replaced by Christophe Lemaire, who had been designing for Lacoste since 2000.

Hermès bought 35 percent of the Gaultier brand in 1999 for $23 million, and took another 10 percent share from the designer in 2008 for about 3 million euros. The Gaultier fashion house gets most of its revenue from ready-to-wear licenses and perfumes, and to a lesser extent, from sales of accessories.

According to the French business paper Les Echoes, several foreign luxury groups or fashion companies are interested in taking a stake in Gaultier to develop it internationally, especially in China and across Asia, where demand for luxury items is soaring.

The announcement comes amid movement toward some consolidation in the luxury industry. Prada, the Italian fashion house seeking to raise cash, this week applied for an initial public offering on the Hong Kong stock exchange, a move that could allow the company to be listed by the middle of the year.

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