Japan’s Onward Holdings Sells Italy-Based Luxury Subsidiary

MILAN Onward Holdings Co. Ltd. has sold its European subsidiary Onward Luxury Group, signaling a potential change of strategy for the Tokyo-based apparel giant.

Through a management buyout, entrepreneur Franco Pené, together with Fabio Ducci and Antonello Orunesu Preiata, chief executive officer and chief financial officer of OLG, respectively, have taken full control of the company, renaming it HIM Co SpA — High Italian Manufacturing. Under the agreement, the new company also becomes parent to handbag and small leather goods manufacturer Frassineti Srl and fine knitwear manufacturer Erika Srl.

Ducci will continue to helm the group as ceo, while Orunesu Preiata has been named chairman.

“I am purely a shareholder, an investor, a sort of adviser, but I do not have an operative role,” Pené told WWD, declining to provide financial details of the transaction.

Pené, previously honorary chairman of OLG, is surely entitled to give advice, since he established Gibò Group in the Nineties. The company was renamed Onward Luxury Group when he sold his shares to Onward Holdings and retired as president two years ago — while keeping busy through venture capital investments.

Gibò, based outside Florence, manufactured and distributed ready-to-wear and footwear for brands such as Paul Smith, Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors. In 2005, Gibò bought footwear company Iris, strengthening its expertise in the sector. Penè has been cited as playing a role in promoting a range of designers over the years, including Stella McCartney, Jean Paul Gaultier and the late Lee McQueen.

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Under his management, Gibò built and distributed brands including Antonio Berardi, Michael Kors, Viktor & Rolf and Hussein Chalayan.

Pené said the change in ownership will not affect the existing business relationships, which include the production of accessories for brands including JW Anderson, See by Chloé and Proenza Schouler, among others. In July, OLG signed a new five-year licensing agreement with Elie Saab. Starting from the spring 2021 collection, OLG will manufacture and distribute the footwear and leather goods lines of the Lebanese luxury brand.

HIM leverages a solid business, Pené emphasized. The company, which has 700 employees, reported sales of 85 million euros in 2020.

“The idea behind the deal was to buy back the industrial operations of the group,” he explained. While OLG has been producing for Jil Sander, the brand is controlled by Onward Holdings.

As reported, sources say Renzo Rosso’s OTB group is eyeing the acquisition of Jil Sander.

On Wednesday, a Milan-based source said the COVID-19 pandemic has “led companies to reconsider their strategies” and, in the case of Onward Holdings, this could mean “a retrenching to its Japan-based business, divesting from operations in Italy and Europe.”

Pointing to yet another example of such changes, another source believes Link Theory Holdings, a Fast Retailing subsidiary and Helmut Lang’s owner, is looking at selling the American designer brand.

Further elaborating on the rationale behind the OLG buyout, Pené said he sees “an increased interest in manufacturing activities in Italy. I believe the industrial part of the business has a future, if it is well organized. I have always believed in this, I have always banked on our know-how and manufacturing, growing and developing [Gibò] activities from ready-to-wear into shoes.”

In light of this, he said he “completely agree[s]” with Francesco Trapani. As reported, in October Trapani spearheaded the establishment of a new production pole called Florence SpA.

The former Bulgari and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton executive is the main shareholder and newly appointed chairman of VAM Investments and together with Fondo Italiano d’Investimento, set up Florence by acquiring three storied Italian manufacturers that have long worked for major international brands: Giuntini SpA, Ciemmeci Fashion Srl and Mely’s Maglieria Srl, all based in Tuscany.

“They are profitable and three examples of technical excellence,” said Trapani at the time. Florence will ensure the highest levels of business sustainability, protecting brands from any kind of reputational risk, he continued, responding “to the needs of fashion companies looking for quality, organizational efficiency, attention to sustainability and a more solid financing.”

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