Blass, Waverly Sales on Fast Track?

NEW YORK — Time might not permit NexCen to wait to sell Bill Blass.

While NexCen Brands Inc. would prefer to delay the sale of the Bill Blass brand until later in the year, potential buyers said the cash-strapped firm needs to do a fast-track sale of both Blass and the home furnishings brand Waverly, particularly since the sale of Waverly isn’t expected to be an all-cash bid.

Waverly is expected to be sold in two to three weeks and to go for between $30 million and $32 million, according to sources familiar with the talks. While Iconix Brand Group at one point had the inside track, and was believed to have an exclusivity agreement with NexCen two weeks ago, one source familiar with the negotiations said talks have shifted to a joint bid from Windsong Brands and Hilco Consumer Capital, which recently joined forces to buy the Sharper Image brand when it was in bankruptcy proceedings. Sources said the Windsong/Hilco venture currently has the exclusivity agreement with NexCen for Waverly.

Windsong and NexCen declined to comment.

NexCen bought Waverly for $36.8 million in May 2007.

Financial sources said the Waverly talks are not focused on an all-cash bid, but the breakdown between cash and other means of financing hasn’t yet been determined. Even if a Waverly sale were to go as high as $32 million, NexCen would need additional funds if it received less than $30 million in cash proceeds. A quick sale of Blass would fill the gap.

The cash-strapped company in May disclosed that $30 million of the $70 million it borrowed in the $89 million acquisition of Great American Cookies had to be paid by Oct. 17. Since then, NexCen has been working to trim its workforce and operations and sell its non-franchise brands. Although NexCen now has until the end of the year to fulfill its $30 million obligation, it said last Friday that it will continue to work with BTMU Capital Corp. on a comprehensive restructuring of the loan, which it intends to complete by Aug. 8.

Bankers and potential buyers said the Blass brand has value, but that it isn’t an easy sale because NexCen wants more than it is currently worth. “If NexCen’s troubles were not part of the equation and you just wanted to sell Blass, there’s a host of strategic buyers who would have an interest,” said Richard Kestenbaum, a partner at investment banking firm Triangle Capital. “As for valuation, the brand has been through a lot in the last several years, and that impacts value.”

Bankers and buyers eyeing the Blass brand have pegged a purchase price range of between $26 million and $28 million. One banker said if NexCen could get more than $30 million, it would be a “huge win” for the distressed firm. Still, the high-end price of $28 million is just over half the $54.6 million paid by NexCen in cash and stock for the brand in December 2006. Windsong and Hilco are also looking at Blass, as are Arnold Simon’s Designer Licensing Holdings, the Blass jeanswear licensee and owner of 10 percent of the Blass trademark. Sources told Footwear News that Simon’s $24 million bid for Blass was rejected by NexCen and that the brand management firm rejected a higher bid last week from a private equity firm.

While the identity of the private equity firm was not immediately known, sources said that PE firms with strategic platforms in place have been circling the Blass brand. Earlier this month, NexCen bought the couture business of Blass, a move that ensures the ultimate Blass buyer will get complete control over the brand.

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