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Donatella: ‘Versace Is Going to Stay a Luxury Brand’

On the heels of the newly minted Capri Holdings' $2.1 billion acquisition of the Italian house, Donatella Versace, group head John D Idol and chief executive Jonathan Akeroyd talk future strategy.
Versace CEO Akeroyd, creative director Donatella Versace and Capri Holdings CEO Idol | Photo: Courtesy
By
  • Lauren Sherman
BoF PROFESSIONAL

MILAN, ItalyDonatella Versace wants to make one thing clear. Versace is a luxury brand, and it's staying that way. "Made in Italy, with quality," she reiterated on Tuesday, just hours after it was announced that Gianni Versace SpA would be acquired by Michael Kors Holdings — now rebranded Capri Holdings — for a value of $2.1 billion, including debt, or 22 times its current EBIDTA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation).

Versace and her family — daughter Allegra and brother Santo — previously owned 80 percent of the brand. While they mostly received cash in the deal, they now own €150 million ($176 million) in group stock, indicating the creative director's commitment to the label following speculation last year that she may be in search of a successor.

Versace said the decision to sell to Capri — which is said to have faced competition from American rivals PVH and Tapestry — went far beyond the dollar figure. "We share the same vision, the same passion; John loves luxury, and he really cares about keeping Versace a luxury brand," she said, referring to John D. Idol, chairman and chief executive of Capri Holdings and head of the Michael Kors brand.

With that, she was laying to rest suggestions that the budding group could consider pivoting Versace towards a more accessible positioning, à la Michael Kors.

"We’re going the opposite direction, we’re going upmarket," Idol added. "There will be no additional licenses, nothing like that. We’re going to be focusing on the Versace first line — which is a predominate amount of the business anyway — and you are going to see even more concentration on that. This company has enormous potential given what some of the other Italian luxury peers are doing. It’s underdeveloped."

While Michael Kors is best known by consumers for its aspirational luxury products sold at mid-tier department stores like Macy’s. Versace, like the other business in the group’s stable, Jimmy Choo, sells to luxury retailers only, save for the occasional collaboration with the likes of streetwear brand Kith or fast-fashion behemoth H&M.

Versace made €15 million ($18 million) in profit last year on €680 million in revenue after a net loss of €7.4 million ($8.7 million) in 2016. This year, revenues are forecast to hit $850 million. But in order to hit its long-term target of $2 billion in revenue, the Italian firm, founded in 1978 by the late designer Gianni Versace, says it won’t broaden its pricing architecture, but instead open 100 more stores, develop its accessories and shoe lines — which are currently underdeveloped and account for just 35 percent of sales, far behind competitors — and become more vertically integrated by buying and building factories.

“To build a luxury business, in particular, on leather and footwear, you need to control manufacturing,” Idol said. “That has to be something that you can do if you really want to reach the size and scale that we think [Versace] deserves,” adding that “Made in Italy will be at the core of everything that we do.”

This year, Idol said Versace is experiencing “double-digit increases in revenue and double-digit comp store increases. There are other brands that are doing that, but there’s only a handful.”

Increased focus on direct retail, including e-commerce, combined with the benefit of sharing back-end technology platforms, manufacturing and distribution facilities across companies within the group, could transform Versace from a world-famous brand with a business that has struggled to achieve corresponding scale into a legitimate powerhouse, capitalising on recent momentum driven by acclaimed runway collections that have tapped into the current obsession with go-go era glitz.

But the path ahead will not be easy; Versace has its skeptics. "Bringing brands like these back to centre stage is not as easy as it looks," said Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas. "Valentino indicates that leather goods development is vital. Would [Capri] have what it takes to succeed in this? I wonder. The plan seems ambitious."

Versace is one of the two or three most important names in luxury fashion.

But Idol is undeterred. “Versace is one of the two or three most important names in luxury fashion,” he said, calling Versace the “main priority” for growth at Capri, indicating that fresh capital will make a huge difference. “Quite frankly, the company doesn’t have the resources it needs to do certain things.”

It was Idol who came up with the name Capri Holdings. “In my view, it’s one of the most glamorous places in the world to enjoy a holiday with your family,” he explained. “When I think of our company, I think of us as family.” Some Versace fans have taken to social media to rally against the brand being “bought” by designer Michael Kors, but Idol isn’t concerned with the misunderstanding.

“Yes, there will be some confusion for a few weeks,” he said. “But then the brands aren’t going to cross-design with each other or anything like that, so I think that will go away. The end consumer doesn’t necessarily know what the holding company is for the other Italian luxury companies. I think they know them for their own personalities.”

While Capri is being positioned to rival Tapestry — which owns Kate Spade New York, Stuart Weitzman and Coach — and PVH — which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein — on the US stock market, Capri's headquarters are actually in London, and its three businesses will continue to operate in separate cities and countries. (Michael Kors is headquartered in New York, Choo in London and Versace in Italy.)

As the number of independent American acquisition targets with global reach continues to dwindle — Oscar de la Renta and Tory Burch are amongst those that remain — expect these growing US groups to continue to mine Europe, where major businesses including Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani remain independent. While some of fashion's oldest houses are committed to going it alone, others are getting closer to considering strategic deals.

As for Versace, chief executive Jonathan Akeroyd said that the first priority will be to further develop the business across Asia, in particular in Korea and Japan, and also in the US, where accessories, including its "Chain Reaction" sneaker, introduced this year, have been a hit. "We are seeing aggressive growth in America right now," he said. "We can see that we have a good opportunity to build our accessories business further."

But Donatella Versace has set clear parameters: “Italians don’t compromise,” she said. “Versace is a luxury brand, and it’s going to stay a luxury brand.”

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