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Chanel Acquires Orlebar Brown

The French luxury house has acquired the British swim and resort-wear brand.
Source: Orlebar Brown
  • Kati Chitrakorn

PARIS, France — Chanel has acquired British swim and resort-wear brand Orlebar Brown from shareholders including private-equity firm Piper and the company's founder Adam Brown. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Brown will continue to lead the business as creative director, alongside chief executive Paul Donoghue.

Originally launched as a digital brand in 2007, Orlebar Brown found early traction with its modern, tailored swimwear that consumers could wear from the pool to lunch, before expanding in 2010 into a full resort range including T-shirts, polo shirts, knitwear and accessories. According to the company, swimwear accounts for 36 percent of the business today.

The label, which operates 24 direct retail stores and has more than 250 wholesale stockists worldwide, now does 40 percent of its business online, making it an intriguing fit with Chanel, one of the few luxury brands that does not sell clothing or handbags via e-commerce.

It is understood that Orlebar Brown has been looking to sell since August 2017, when it was going for a reported asking price of £50 million ($65 million). London-based M&A advisors Cavendish Corporate Finance were hired to help the brand explore funding options.

The Wertheimer family, which owns Chanel, has invested in a variety of companies — including Ulta, Bonobos and Beautycounter — but mostly through Mousse Partners, its family office. "It's interesting that Chanel is buying it, because the brand is quite small to be honest,"said Mario Ortelli, managing partner of luxury advisors Ortelli & Co., estimating revenues of the Orlebar Brown business at around £25 million (about $32.6 million). Chanel, in comparison, is a $10 billion company.

However, he acknowledged that there were synergies between the distribution of Orlebar Brown and Eres, the swimwear brand the French luxury house has owned since 1996. "While Eres is focused on women, Orlebar Brown is clearly a men's brand, which began with swim shorts but is now trying to become more casual lifestyle brand."

"Over time [Chanel] has increased the reach of Eres and its product categories, in particular, in lingerie and homeware," Ortelli cotinued. "I believe that the rational of the acquisition is to exploit synergies with Eres and to gain some experience in the menswear business. Chanel is currently focused on the women's business and the only products targeted to men are fragrances and sometimes sneakers available in men sizes."

For Philippe Blondiaux, global chief financial officer at Chanel, the acquisition "represents an ideal opportunity for synergy" between Orlebar Brown and Eres.

"As a 'digital native' brand, Orlebar Brown will enable Eres to strengthen its digital expertise and optimise its omni-channel distribution strategy," Blondiaux continued. "Orlebar Brown, on the other hand, will benefit from the retail experience and expertise of a long-standing player in high-quality beachwear.”

The move will also support Orlebar Brown's plans for global expansion in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Orlebar Brown received a significant boost after Daniel Craig wore a pair of its blue shorts in his role as James Bond in the movie "Skyfall" in 2012. The brand has since attracted a coterie of celebrity fans, from actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Fassbender to model David Gandy and athletes Roger Federer and Tom Brady.

There's also opportunity in the global men's swimwear market, which was valued at $7.2 billion in 2017, according to Euromonitor International, up 4.6 percent from $6.9 billion in 2016. It marks the first time the market has seen growth since 2013, when Orlebar Brown raised £8 million ($12.4 million) from Piper in exchange for a significant minority stake.

According to Euromonitor, growth has largely been driven by male customers and the luxury brands that are now serving them. Indeed, when luxury online retailer Mr Porter opened for business back in 2011, it stocked only nine swimwear brands. Today it sells more than a dozen, with Orlebar Brown being one of the top five performing swimwear brands.

The acquisition follows Chanel's recent reconfiguration of its business, which includes establishing a London-based holding company for its global operations, shuffling some of its executives and launching e-commerce for eyewear in the UK.

Earlier this year, the group acquired Spanish leather goods firm Colomer. It also took a minority stake in luxury Swiss watchmaker Montres Journe, adding to its investments in Bell & Ross and Romain Gautier.

"In Chanel, we have found the perfect home for the brand to continue to thrive and grow," said Brown.

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