Versace and Blackstone sign stake purchase deal-Reuters

(Reuters) – Italian fashion house Versace signed a deal on Thursday to sell a 20 percent stake to U.S. private equity firm Blackstone, spokespeople for the two companies said on Friday.

The brand controlled by the family of late founder Gianni Versace is selling the stake to raise funds to open new shops abroad, where it sees strong demand for its clothing and accessories branded with a Medusa head.

One Blackstone employee will take a seat including voting rights on the board of Versace, which says it chose the U.S. group as a financial, not strategic, investor because, like fellow Italian fashion firms Giorgio Armani and Missoni, it wants to remain independent.

At a conference in the northern Italian town of Cernobbio, a spokesman said Blackstone Chief Executive Stephen Schwarzmann was in Italy to close the deal.

The 210 million euro ($288 million) deal values the fashion house at more than 14 times its core earnings for last year, above the luxury sector average of around 11, but below the 19 times earnings French group LVMH paid for cashmere firm Loro Piana last July.

Andrea Valeri, senior managing director in Blackstone’s tactical opportunities group, will become a board member, while Managing Director Robert Ramsauer will step into an observer role without voting rights, a spokeswoman for Versace said.

Versace plans a stock market listing in three to five years’ time, taking advantage of investor appetite for Italy’s high-end consumer goods sector, which provided all four listings on Milan’s main market from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2013.