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Diesel’s Rosso Buys Majority of Viktor & Rolf

Godfrey Deeny
July 22nd, 2008 @ 11:26 AM - Paris

In his latest attempt to buy the credibility that he lacks in his own core business of Diesel, Italian fashion magnate Renzo Rosso has acquired majority control of Viktor & Rolf.

Rosso bought control of the Dutch duo’s fashion house through his holding Only The Brave, a diversified fashion group whose interests already include controlling stakes in the fashion houses of Martin Margiela and Sophia Kokosalaki and global manufacturing and distribution licenses for Dsquared and Vivienne Westwood.

The new deal, terms of which were not made available, marks his latest attempt to add designer cool to a group whose key source of revenue remains faux aged jeans for clubbing kids.

“We want to develop our fashion house to its full potential. For quite a while we have been looking for a partner. We were not just looking for someone with the money and the know-how to realize our dream, but also someone with a kindred spirit and attitude. We admire Renzo Rosso's unconventional nature and the success it has brought him,” Viktor & Rolf said in a press release.

“We decided to join forces with him because his motto "Only The Brave" appeals to us. True creation requires courage,” added the Dutch conceptual duo, famed for their performance art shows and for once making a “limited edition” scent in a bottle that could not be opened.

However, unlike Rosso’s other designer label acquisitions, Viktor & Rolf do boast a major league fragrance hits; their L’Oreal produced “Flowerbomb” fragrance for women and cologne “Antidote” for men are both international best-sellers. Last month, the Barbican Art Gallery in London celebrated their work with a retrospective of 15 years of fashion and art.

“Ever since the beginning of their career, Viktor & Rolf have tickled my curiosity for their unbelievable out-of-the-box creativity,” commented Rosso in the same release.

“We studied each other for more than two years to get to this point as I only believe in true partnerships with designers, where a common ground is shared. Viktor and Rolf represent one of the highest luxury brands of our group: a new, modern and innovative design, detaching itself from the fashion establishment – something I love,” continued Rosso, whose Only the Brave corporation scored global sales of 1.3 billion euros, or $2.026 billion, last year.

Rosso apparently intends pursuing a similar strategy to that used at Maison Martin Margiela, a 2002 acquisition. Rosso has driven more Margiela product onto market, reportedly boosting consolidated revenues last year by 50 percent to 60 million euros, or $95.4 million at current exchange rates. However, the partnership has not been without turbulence; most of Margiela’s key lieutenants have fled the company, unhappy with Rosso’s commercial demands, and the latest rumor is that Margiela himself is considering retiring.

Rosso completed the Viktor & Rolf takeover by acquiring shares held in the Dutchmen’s firm by Franco Pene, the owner of Gibo, the Italian manufacturer of avant-garde designers. The designers hold the remaining minority stake, though the exact percentage has not been revealed, a commonplace practice in the murky world of Rosso.

Staff International, Only the Brave's manufacturing and distribution division, will now hold exclusive worldwide rights to Viktor & Rolf's women's and men's collections of clothing, shoes and accessories, whose revenues are about 10 million euros, or $15.9 million at current exchange.

Rosso is also expected to develop a larger network of boutiques for Viktor & Rolf, whose current chain is limited to one freestanding store, albeit on the key Milan shopping street Via St. Andrea, where they have installed a critically acclaimed upside-down décor.

The Dutch duo are understood to be exhausted by the permanent rush of deadlines and continual demands of managing a business, so much so that many of the clothes in their most recent runway show read out the word “No” in a visually agonized scream.

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, childhood friends who graduated from Holland’s Arnhem Academy, won a devoted art house and fashion forward following with brilliant shows, like one in the Paris that featured thousands of bells on most looks, announcing the arrival of each outfit long before they appeared in the catwalk. Though in recent years they have grown more practical, even making a one time collection with the giant Swedish retailer H&M.

The deal marks the latest move by Rosso, a hirsute figure always keen to be photographed more often than any of the designers in his group, to buy fashion credibility and build a team of inventive labels attracting younger, edgier consumers.

Rosso’s Diesel prides itself on its “democratic” ad campaigns, yet this businessman once notoriously staged a party in Florence where there was not one, but three classes of invitations.

Moreover, even after this takeover the heart and the soul of Rosso’s business will remain what it has always been - expensively faded jeans.

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