Ermenegildo Zegna in a deal to go public

(NYTIMES) – In 1910, Ermenegildo Zegna was founded in the foothills of Northern Italy as a family-run maker of wool fabrics.

On Monday, the company, now a global luxury fashion house that owns the Thom Browne brand, took a major step onto the public stock markets – through one of the biggest trends on Wall Street in recent years.

Zegna announced Monday that it would gain a listing on the New York Stock Exchange by merging with a publicly traded acquisition fund known as a SPAC. The deal is expected to value Zegna at about US$3.2 billion, including debt, and may pave a path for other privately held luxury giants to follow suit.

The deal is also the latest sign that big luxury fashion companies are gearing up to get even bigger, seeing an opportunity in taking over rivals and becoming empires. It is a trend that has perhaps been exemplified by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the fashion empire that in recent years has struck deals to buy the likes of Tiffany & Co.

Such takeovers have soared in recent years, with rivals across the ocean taking on similar empire-building ambitions. Capri Holdings, formerly known as Michael Kors Holdings, acquired Italian fashion house Versace for US$2.1 billion in 2018, while Tapestry, once known as Coach, has bought companies including Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman.

The luxury industry has been resilient, as consumers have kept up spending on jewellery, apparel and other indulgences – including as the global economy slowly emerges from a pandemic. Shares of LVMH, whose brands include Dior, Stella McCartney and Fenty, are up by more than 60 per cent this year; those in Kering, the parent of labels like Gucci and Saint Laurent, are up by 45 per cent.

For much of its existence, Zegna was known primarily as a top-tier maker of menswear fabrics and, later, suiting. (It still makes suits for other high-end labels, notably Tom Ford.) But with its purchase in 2018 of a majority stake in fashion label Thom Browne, Zegna began its own ambitious plan to become a stable of luxury brands.

Zegna now runs nearly 300 stores in 80 countries. And in a sign of optimism about revived consumer spending on fashion, the company expects its sales this year to come close to pre-pandemic levels.

While Zegna’s pursuit of more resources to expand is not novel, how it is doing so is.

It is merging with a SPAC – formally known as a special purpose acquisition company – a fund that is raised in the stock markets solely for the purpose of merging with a privately held company and giving it a stock listing.

“We will continue to invest in creativity, innovation, talent and technology in order to sustain Zegna’s leadership position in the global luxury market,” Ermenegildo Zegna, the company’s CEO and grandson of its founder, said in a statement.

Such funds have exploded in popularity over the past two years for allowing companies to join stock markets more quickly than through a traditional initial public offering. (SPACs have increasingly come under scrutiny by regulators in the United States, where most of these funds are listed.)

Merging with Zegna is a fund run by Investindustrial, a European investment firm. The deal will give Zegna about US$880 million in fresh cash while allowing its founding family to retain a roughly 62 per cent stake.

“Our goal now is to support Zegna in this important new chapter of its history while opening the opportunity to the public to invest in one of the last great iconic independent luxury brands,” Sergio Ermotti, chair of the Investindustrial SPAC, said in a statement.

The deal is expected to close by the end of the year, pending approval by the SPAC’s shareholders.

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