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Richemont Buying Net-a-Porter

Godfrey Deeny
April 01st, 2010 @ 00:25 AM - Paris

Swiss-based luxury giant Richemont has announced plans to buy complete control of Net-a-Porter, in a deal that values the fashion Internet retailer at 350 million pounds, or $535 million at current exchange rates.

Richemont, which is largely controlled by the Rupert family, an enormously wealthy South African clan, said it had made an offer to Net-a-Porter shareholders to acquire all the shares in that concern. Richemont already owns one third of the issued share capital in Net-a-Porter.

The luxury conglomerate added that it had already received undertakings to accept its bid from holders of 80 percent of Net-a-Porter shares, guaranteeing that the deal will go through. Bearing in mind that Net-a-Porter had turnover of 120 million pounds, or $183 million, last year, the valuation of three times annual sales is very high for a retail operation. However, since Net-a-Porter is not a bricks and mortar business it is thus able to operate, at least theoretically, with a wider margin than traditional retailers.

Moreover, Richemont has a reputation for paying top dollar for luxury labels that it sees as having global reputations and instant brand recognition.

The takeover marks a remarkable achievement for Natalie Massenet, a former fashion journalist, born in the U.S. with the maiden name of Rooney. She is set to net an estimate personal gain of some 50 million pounds, or $74.4 million, from the deal. Massenet, a frequent vacationer in the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, will continue to be executive chairman of Net-a-Porter, which will operate as an independent entity, separate from Richemont’s other luxury companies.

“Natalie has created a superb, customer-oriented business at Net-a-Porter in a relatively short period of time ...becoming part of our group will provide the company with the support it requires to realize its business strategies,” said Richemont Chairman Johan Rupert in a release.

Massenet, the release noted, will take a stake in the new entity formed to control Net-a-Porter, without specifying the amount.

“This is an incredibly important stage in the life and development of the Net-a-Porter group. The entire team is immensely proud of what we have built and is very excited about the future,” Massenet commented.

Richemont may well see the deal as a chance to retail its own stable of brands, which includes Cartier, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc, Chloé and some dozen high-end Swiss watchmakers, on Net-a-Porter, a site that attracts over two million women a month.

Net-a-Porter currently retails over 300 collections including brands like Balmain, Alexander Wang, Fendi and Miu Miu, and ships to 170 countries worldwide - recently celebrated its one millionth order.

Net-a-Porter, which Massenet founded10 years ago, currently employs around 600 people in London and New York.

Geneva-based Richemont was founded in 1988 and is the world’s second largest luxury group after Paris-based LVMH. Richemont is listed in Switzerland and Johannesburg and has historically focused on “hard” luxury like jewelry, watches and writing instruments, rather than “soft” luxury like clothing.

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