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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

St. John Knits’ Parent Co. To Go Public via SPAC

Irvine luxury knit house St. John Knits International Inc. has designs for a new corporate look as it enters its 60th year of operation: it plans to be part of a public company.

Shanghai-based parent company Lanvin Group, which owns the local women’s clothes maker and other heritage fashion brands, said late last month it plans to go public via a reverse merger with Primavera Capital Acquisition Corp. (NYSE: PV), a Special Purpose Acquisition Co. or SPAC, in a deal that values Lanvin Group around $1.5 billion.

The SPAC is an offshoot of Hong Kong’s Primavera Capital Group, an alternative investment management firm with about $17 billion of assets under management.

Lanvin Group would raise up to $544 million as part of the proposed public listing, and its shares would be listed on the NYSE under the “LANV” ticker symbol. A timeline for completing the deal hasn’t been disclosed.

New Chapter

A public listing would mark a new chapter for St. John Knits, whose wool blend clothes have been go-to pieces for women execs and first ladies over the decades, as well as endorsed by celebrities such as Angelina Jolie.

The company, founded by Robert Gray and his wife, Marie, in 1962, has seen several changes in ownership over the years.

Escada AG in Germany paid the Grays a reported $45 million for an 83.5% stake in 1989, and took the company public for the first time in 1993.

New York private equity firm Vestar Capital Partners bought a majority stake in the brand in a 1999 deal that valued St. John’s at $522 million, and took it private.

Later, Chinese consumer goods firm Fosun International would take a one-third stake in the company in late 2013 for $55 million. In 2017, Fosun took over a majority stake in the company on undisclosed terms, and later spun it off into that firm’s new Lanvin Group division.

Sales on Upswing

St. John generated about $82 million of sales in fiscal 2021, up 12% from 2020, according to financial data pertaining to the planned reverse merger.

The company made up about 22% of Lanvin’s total revenue last year, and was the parent company’s second-largest unit by sales, according to regulatory filings.

Others under the parent company’s umbrella include French couture namesake Lanvin, Italian shoemaker Sergio Rossi, Wolford, an Austrian maker of tights, underwear and other bodywear, and Italian menswear brand Caruso.

The five brands hold more than 390 years of fashion history combined, according to the parent company.


Founded in 1962, St. John counts 47 stores located in 13 countries, and the knit fashion retailer reported 130 points of sale as of September 2021.

“It’s a momentous moment for Lanvin Group and we are excited for their path to become publicly traded. Being part of a global luxury fashion group will only benefit St. John as we move into our 60th anniversary of business in Southern California,” Deputy CEO Andy Lew told the Business Journal.

“Lanvin Group has a strong understanding of luxury, specifically heritage brands like us. As they create strategic alliances, we are honored to be part of the journey for our shared growth,” Lew said.

Lew joined St. John last year, following the departure of CEO Eran Cohen.

Lew previously led the Asia Pacific and international business units in the role of president at fashion retailer Brooks Brothers based in New York. His retail career began with Nordstrom as divisional merchandise manager and after moved to luxury brand Ermengildo Zegna in Milan as a director of its China region until 2010.

Local Ops

St. John reported 921 companywide employees, including 248 in OC, for the Business Journal’s latest directory of apparel companies last May.

A representative from St. John said that the brand has no plans to move headquarters outside of the area, and said they “look forward to remaining in Orange County as they head into the company’s 60th anniversary.”

“St. John Knits is a unique part of Lanvin Group’s portfolio with over six decades of American heritage,” Joann Cheng, chairman and CEO of Lanvin Group, told the Business Journal last week via email.

“We are committed to further investing in product innovation, retail and digital expansion, while strengthening the brand’s strong equity anchored in its elegant style and unsurpassed craftsmanship,” Cheng said. 

Future Plans

With the exception of St. John Knits, which generates most of its sales domestically, the other fashion companies under the parent company’s umbrella see the largest source of their sales in Europe. Lanvin Group expects the public listing to help it expand its reach in both Asia and North America.

Financial projections for St. John Knits indicate the parent company believes the Irvine business can top more than $200 million in annual sales by 2025, with growth coming via its existing retail stores, expansion into China, and a bigger ecommerce presence, among other factors.

“We look forward to cementing the brand’s strong presence in North America and expanding into other global markets such as Europe and Asia, where we see significant growth opportunities,” Cheng told the Business Journal. 

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