Chinese conglomerate Fosun catches buying fever abroad
Fosun, who confirmed Thursday the purchase of French fashion house Lanvin, is not yet the most familiar group among the fashion world, but it’s no stranger either. The expansive Chinese conglomerate, known for acquisitions in a number of sectors, already has majority stakes or at least stable stakes in five brands via Fosun Fashion Group: Folli Follie, St John, Caruso, Tom Tailor and Iro.
In addition to Lanvin, the group - which posted a turnover of 9.4 billion euros in 2016 - will consider (or at least recently considered) adding another name to the list: La Perla. In fact, the Italian luxury brand, which is specialised in lingerie and recently expanded into women's ready-to-wear, went into negotiations with Fosun last December. Though negotiations have now come to an end, neither of the partners have commented on the subject, nor denying or confirming a failed discussion or one that still has potential.
Meanwhile, the group has also approached in the past two other fashion houses with a focus on luxury, including the jeweler Fabergé, and also the traditional American women’s brand St John, a knitwear specialist.
Fosun's other holdings are more diverse in terms of positioning: Iro, which the group has been the majority shareholder of since summer 2016, invests in the premium and mixed ready-to-wear segment, with 36 stores worldwide. Caruso has luxury appeal, an Italian menswear brand, while the Greek jewelry and accessories brand Folli Follie is more mid-range. The German brand Tom Tailor, which Fosun is the major shareholder of with some 30 percent, has a focus on fast-fashion.
Fosun Fashion Group operates on several tables at once, whether it's company size or positioning. But Lanvin should become the new reference group, spearheading its fashion division, as the Parisian fashion house offers notoriety, history and international potential in the eyes of its new owner.
Until now, it was rather Club Med that the private group would put forward, which was founded in 1992 by students of the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai.
The giant conglomerate got its hands on the French village-holiday specialist in early 2015. Since then, it has been vigorously developing its activities in China. It’s this success story that a spokesman for the group references to explain what could be the strategy for Lanvin.
"This is the best example of what Fosun can and wants to do. The strategy for Club Med and Lanvin is similar: working closely with the company, supporting it first, then developing it internationally, naturally in China, but not only, like the last vacation-village in Japan," said a spokesman for the Chinese conglomerate.
Financial support will be a first to give Lanvin afloat, as the accounting situation of the fashion house continues to be uncertain, and then its development. For the moment, there is no preferred positioning: it remains to be seen whether the new owner will continue with the creative shift made with the arrival of Olivier Lapidus last summer at the head of the women's collections, which caused criticism and accentuated a loss in sales.
Between 2013 and 2017, Fosun made at least 13.5 billion dollars (11 billion euros) of acquisitions abroad, according to the financial firm Dealogic. A frenzy of purchases in eclectic sectors, from finance and pharmaceuticals to tourism, financed largely by debt, ended up worrying Chinese regulators, who ordered last year audits on loans at risk contracted by the country's large private conglomerate.
But Fosun's chief executive, Wang Qunbin, denied in August "any formal investigation by regulators" against the group, while hailing Beijing's hardening against investments as "irrational".
The symbolic president of Fosun, Guo Guangchang, is according to Forbes the 16th richest Chinese with assets of about 9 billion dollars. Very politically connected, he is readily seen as an oracle of the markets and described as a local "Warren Buffett".
His mysterious disappearance during a few days at the end of 2015 had a shocking effect on the business community. Fosun belatedly said Guo Guangchang was "assisting in judicial investigations". The billionaire resurfaced soon after. This has not extinguished the multi-billionaire’s thirst for investments, now winning Lanvin, probably before other future fashion acquisitions.
Anaïs Lerévérend with AFP
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