South Korea's EXR buys fashion house Castelbajac

Sept 13 - South Korean sportswear group EXR has snapped up French fashion house Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, known for its cartoonish and pop art-inspired dresses, underscoring Asian groups' growing appetite for acquiring Western luxury brands.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, EXR
EXR campaign

The deal, worth 3 million euros ($4.1 million), follows Starwood Capital's sale last month of French perfume brand Annick Goutal to South Korean cosmetics group Amore Pacific, also owner of perfume brand Lolita Lempicka.

Castelbajac, which already counted EXR among licensees of its designs, went into administration in May after its owner The Sixth Swedish National Pension Fund decided to stop supporting it, having invested more than 10 million euros in the brand since buying it in 2008.

"The EXR group intends to relaunch the brand and ensure its development in Asia with Jean-Charles de Castelbajac as artistic director," the fashion house's lawyer Guilhem Bremond told Reuters.

Many Asian groups are on the prowl for European luxury brands, attracted by the growth potential in markets such as China, Korea and Singapore.

Chinese retail group Li & Fung was interested in buying Castelbajac but walked away, a source close to the deal said. Rival bidders included French entrepreneur Dominique Bergin, head of French sportswear maker Look, and U.S.-based Falic, which used to own French fashion brand Christian Lacroix, the source added.

Castelbajac, founded by the designer in the late 1970s, still holds fashion shows and its next catwalk presentation is scheduled for Oct. 4 during Paris Fashion Week. Last year, the brand made a loss of 2 million euros on revenue of 4 million.

The brand, known for its dresses inspired by paintings by modern artists such as Ben and Miquel Barcelo, is also remembered for off-the-wall designs such as a coat covered in stitched Teddy bears worn by Madonna.

"This takeover shows the will of the EXR group to be present on the French and European markets," Olivier Pardo, lawyer representing EXR said in a statement. "It is a token of hope in a difficult economic situation."

The deal announced on Tuesday is similar to Li & Fung's acquisition of Italian fashion brand Cerruti for 53 million euros in December last year, as the Chinese group's retail arm Trinity was Cerruti's licensee.

By Astrid Wendlandt and Pascale Denis
(Editing by David Holmes)

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