Jun 9, 2009
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Kim Winser has luxury goods deals in sights

Jun 9, 2009

By Mark Potter

LONDON (Reuters) - Kim Winser, the former head of British luxury clothing brand Aquascutum, has drawn up a shortlist with investors of two potential acquisition targets as she considers her next move in the industry.

Winser told the Reuters Luxury Goods Summit on Tuesday 9 June her buyout bid for Aquascutum, whose rejection last month by Japanese owners Renown (3606.T) triggered her departure, was still on the table, though she did not expect talks to resume.

She has also been tipped as the next head of Italian fashion house Versace, whose chief executive quit on Friday 5 June, and as a future leader of British retailer Marks and Spencer (MKS.L), where she worked for over 20 years.

"(It's) a very difficult dilemma for me," said Winser, who made her name in luxury goods by taking Scottish knitwear brand Pringle from golf courses to catwalks.

She declined to comment on her next career move, but said that even though she was attracted to running her own business, she would join another if it was the right brand.

"For me it's the brand and the consumer and if you can have the right brand, I think it's the most important thing."

Winser said both her potential bid targets were foreign luxury goods brands that include clothing and accessories.

One has annual revenues of about 300 million pounds ($483 million) and has "just been allowed to trickle on a bit in the recent past."

The other has annual revenues of about 1.8 billion pounds and, as Aquascutum did, needs restructuring after it "probably tried to go too wide," Winser said.

She declined to name either bid target, or to give details of the investment firms with which she is working.

Winser was sanguine about the prospects for a quick recovery in the broad luxury goods market, but said top-of-the-range brands were less badly affected.

A number of brands could also change hands in the coming months as owners look to hive off underperforming assets and investors are attracted by lowly valuations.


"There are so many brands out there for sale and even if they don't have a little tag outside saying they're for sale, they're definitely interested," she said.

"I've been surprised at how many people who are looking to invest," she added. "Certainly from what I'm experiencing in the last few weeks, I think they're ready (to strike deals)."

Winser said Aquascutum had been responding well to her turnaround strategy, which has included investing in new product development and closing loss-making stores.

Shortly before her departure, like-for-like sales were up about 20 percent from the start of the year on the same period the year before, while wholesale sales for autumn were up by 50-60 percent in some markets, she said.

The company was still loss making, but due to break even next year, she added.

After rejecting Winser's offer, Renown said it was in talks to sell Aquascutum to China's YGM Trading (0375.HK), though no offer has emerged yet. Renown has also started consultation with Aquascutum's 300-plus staff -- often the first step to job cuts.

"Somebody will definitely buy the brand (Aquascutum) because my offer still sits on the table," Winser said, though she also said: "I believe my role at Aquascutum has gone."

Gianni Versace and Marks & Spencer (M&S) were both "very interesting brands," she said.

"(Versace) has got a huge following globally...Some of the product development in the recent past has been very strong."

Winser said M&S had a "really big challenge in the sense that its customer base is virtually everybody."

She declined to suggest how the firm might revive its fortunes after a 40 percent drop in annual profits, but noted that any business needed to focus on its "core" customers.

(Editing by Rupert Winchester)

(For summit blog: blogs.reuters.com/summits/)

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