On social media, the reaction from Versace fans following Tuesday’s announcement was swift and vicious. “RIP Versace,” read several representative tweets. Many seemed aghast that the legacy of the late, legendary Italian designer Gianni Versace would be carried on not just by an American but by an American whose name is, to many, synonymous with midmarket handbags they can buy at the mall.
Of course, many of these would-be critics misconstrued the nature of the deal: Donatella Versace will be staying on as creative director of the house that bears her name, and she, her daughter Allegra and her brother Santos will all become shareholders in Capri Holdings, the newly renamed conglomerate formerly known as Michael Kors Holdings. Versace will also remain a luxury brand, Donatella has confirmed, just as Jimmy Choo has since it was acquired by Kors last year.
“First of all, I wanted to let you know that I am not going anywhere, so for those who wanted to get rid of me, well…it ain’t happening,” Donatella wrote on her personal Instagram page today. “I also wanted to reassure you that Versace will remain Italian, Made in Italy and that it will keep its Glamour, Daring and Inclusive attitude that have made you all love it. This is just the beginning of an exciting, new adventure that I hope you will live together with me.”
At the same time, industry insiders and investors have been far more bullish about the new partnership — though they’re also cautious in their optimism given the challenge ahead.
“The reality is, in new-world retail, living and dying by one brand is dangerous, no matter how strong the brand,” said Simeon Siegel, senior retail analyst at Nomura Instinet. “Successes are built by leveraging strengths and benefiting from back-end synergies. And as we are seeing, more companies realize that having multiple ways to win also helps temper the fickleness of fashion in any given season.”
Versace gives Capri Holdings (the new name Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. will take on post-closing) exposure to the European luxury market, but its revenues, which hit 680 million euros (approximately $798.8 million) last year, don’t come close to those of competitors like Gucci or Prada. For many years, the brand was also run at a loss, climbing into the black in 2017 on profits of 15 million euros ($18 million). Michael Kors chairman and CEO John Idol said the company is targeting $2 billion in revenue for Versace and plans to grow its still-undersized handbag, shoe and accessories categories to 60 percent of the brand’s business, compared with 35 percent today.
“I guess the remains-to-be-seen element of this is can they effectively continue to grow the business consistently for the next-few-year period?” said Camilo Lyon, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity. “I think Kors can leverage its expertise in accessories and footwear creation and production to boost that business for Versace.”
In particular, he expects the company will leap to leverage the logo trend while it’s still red-hot. “I think that’s the immediate- or near-term opportunity that Kors can accelerate to ignite the sales growth element,” he says.
While Versace gets a boost in its accessories game, Kors will likely reap the benefits of the Italian brand’s foothold abroad. “As a very minor player in retail outside the U.S., the Michael Kors brand could stand to gain a bump in its credibility and perhaps a raising of its profile as a force to be reckoned with in European fashion,” argued Deb Gabor, CEO of Sol Marketing, a brand strategy consultancy.
Idol has made no secret of his aspirations to turn Kors into a significant player on the global luxury stage, and this move solidifies the goal. It also raises the stakes for rival American conglomerate Tapestry, which owns Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman, and whose CEO, Victor Luis, has also said he’d look abroad for further acquisitions as he, too, builds a modern fashion empire.
While Michael Kors’ stock took a hit even before the announcement was made, falling 8 percent on Monday amid reports of the planned Versace deal and recovering only slightly in the days since, several analysts reiterated or raised their price targets in the wake of the news.
Cowen analyst Oliver Chen wrote in a note that the firm believes “the company is well-positioned to step change Versace’s growth and margins over time,” provided it maintains a modern luxury ethos, which means “being inclusive yet exclusive … building on Versace’s rock-and-roll and glamorous heritage yet still being accessible, open-minded and body-positive to a new generation of luxury shoppers.”