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Carven acquired by Chinese group Icicle

Translated by
Robin Driver
today Oct 13, 2018
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Carven has managed to avoid liquidation, as on Friday, 12th October, Paris' Tribunal de Commerce named the Parisian fashion house's new buyer. As reported by FashionNetwork.com a week ago, industry observers have been awaiting the commercial court's decision since the final takeover offers for the brand were submitted. Seven offers were presented to the court, among which only one constituted a proposition to purchase the entirety of the brand founded by Marie-Louise Carven in 1945. Understandably, it was this offer, put forward by Chinese company Icicle, which quickly took up pole position, bolstered by a purchase price of 4.2 million euros and, according to AFP, the promise of 8 million euros worth of investments, all of which made for a total that far exceeded the other offers on the table – more than enough to sway the court's decision. 

Carven's Spring/Summer 2018 campaign - Carven

Icicle has therefore become Carven's new owner. From today, the Chinese company's Parisian subsidiary will take control of the brand, its four boutiques in France and all of its employees, who currently number just under 100. Founded in Shanghai in 1997 by couple Shouzeng Ye and Shwana Tao, premium womenswear brand Icicle will therefore now be joined by Carven to create a new group. 

"Icicle Fashion Group, a major player in China's high-end ready-to-wear industry, will aim to relaunch operations at Carven and to redeploy the brand and its collections in France and China, as well as internationally. Icicle's strong growth will permit the group to employ leverage and synergies which could benefit Carven," commented the brand's new buyer, which reported 204 million euros in turnover and growth of 23% in 2017. 

Icicle now owns 100% of Carven, taking over from all of the brand's previous shareholders. Among these, the biggest is Hong Kong-based group Bluebell, former distributor of Carven in Asia and majority shareholder of the brand since 2015, whose decision to stop financing the house some months back pushed it to the brink of liquidation. Henri Sebaoun, former owner of the house who maintained a minority share following its last sale, is also out, as is Turenne Investissement, recently renamed Altur Investissement. 

Alone at the helm of the brand, the challenge for Icicle will now be to relaunch Carven after a rough period which saw the house drop under the radar over the last few months. Indeed, the label did not even present a Spring/Summer 2019 collection at the most recent Paris Fashion Week. 

A temporary management team made up of Icicle president and founder Shawna Tao, and Isabelle Capron, CEO of the company's Parisian subsidiary, will first get to know the brand and its different divisions before laying out plans for Carven's relaunch. Whether the label will maintain its historic positioning on the verges of the luxury market remains to be seen, although this situation does somewhat mirror the Icicle brand's position on the Chinese market. Whether Icicle team members will be going to Paris to support the Carven team is also a question yet to be answered. 

In any case, the Chinese group has maintained a branch in Paris since 2013, co-managed by Tao and Capron, an experienced luxury industry executive, who has previously worked for Lanvin and served as CEO of Fauchon. Some 30 Icicle employees are currently stationed in the French capital, working on a luxury line entitled "Paris" for the Chinese brand, but also developing its global image, as well as the merchandising for its 250 Chinese stores.  

After the initial reconnaissance period, the priority will be getting to work on Carven's collections, albeit with a few changes. A new creative director will have to be found, as Serge Ruffieux, the most recent holder of this title at the brand, is the only one of Carven's employees not to be taken on by Icicle for this season. 

Once these questions have been resolved, the relaunch will also incorporate a new plan including a slew of store openings, following a number of closures over the last few years, and, naturally, expansion into China. Unsurprisingly, this market will be a priority for Carven's new owner, which did not include the brand's British and American subsidiaries in its offer. 

According to the latest reports from the label, Carven was achieving annual revenues of 20 million euros and currently only has a handful of points of sale to its name, down from a peak of around 50 million euros between 2014 and 2015, when the brand operated 25 company-owned stores. 

There's plenty for Icicle to be getting on with then, not least because the group is currently looking to expand its eponymous brand internationally, a task which has also been entrusted to its Parisian subsidiary. "This transaction is the third major investment made by the group in France. Following the opening of its design centre in 2013, the HQ of which was set up on Avenue Raymond-Poincaré (Paris, 16th arrondissement), and the acquisition, in 2017, of an hôtel particulier on Avenue George-V (Paris, 8th arrondissement), future Parisian flagship (of the Icicle brand, set to open in 2019), with its purchase of Carven, Icicle Fashion Group illustrates and confirms its strategy and ambitions for the international market," the Chinese company concluded. 

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