Italy's Billionaire Lingerie King Takes Aim at Victoria's Secret

Billionaire Calzedonia Founder Takes on Victoria’s Secret
  • Calzedonia Group operates about 4,000 stores, mostly in Europe
  • Intimissimi staged a music show on ice this weekend in Verona

Sandro Veronesi, the billionaire whose Calzedonia Group sold 1.8 billion euros ($2.5 billion) worth of intimate apparel and clothing last year, is planning to challenge Victoria’s Secret on its home turf by opening his first U.S. stores.

“We will start maybe from New York, which is a fashion city, and then we will expand in the major cities,” the Italian said in a Bloomberg Television interview at Verona’s Gran Guardia Palace. “There is a dominant competitor in the United States, but that is maybe a reason why also women would like to have an alternative.”

The closely held company sells Intimissimi lingerie, Calzedonia socks and Falconeri knitwear through a network of more than 3,800 stores mainly in Europe. The 55-year-old owns 84 percent of the business and has a $2.4 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He declined to comment on his net worth.

Asian Markets

The underwear maker has a handful of stores in Hong Kong and Japan, and isn’t planning on expanding further into Asia where consumers have proven reluctant to switch from domestic rivals.

“It’s a little bit easier than Asia even if still a tough job,” David Pambianco, managing director of Milan-based fashion consultancy Pambianco said by phone. “He is playing against bigger companies than him with a lot of money to invest. To be better than the others is not so easy.”

Veronesi said the U.S. stores would open in the next couple of years. He acknowledged that it may prove tricky to win over consumers in a market dominated by L Brands Inc., the owner of the Victoria’s Secret and La Senza labels. The Columbus, Ohio-based company had revenue of $11.4 billion and a market value of $24.7 billion in the year ended Jan. 31, 2015. No response was received to an e-mailed request for comment sent to L Brand’s press office.

Internal Growth

Veronesi said Bloomberg’s $2.8 billion valuation of Calzedonia is "more or less" accurate though its precise value is difficult to assess. The group has no immediate plans for an initial public offering and isn’t evaluating any acquisitions, according to Veronesi.

“We prefer to grow internally,” he said. “There are a lot of companies on sale in Europe in our business but at the moment the asking prices are very high.”

Meanwhile, Veronesi is increasingly pushing the visibility of his brands, including producing the second Intimissimi on Ice show in Verona this past weekend, a musical performance featuring costumes by his company, Olympic ice skaters and pop singer Ellie Goulding.

“Every brand is trying to communicate with customers in a better way, in a more efficient way, in a novel way, because certainly customers are tired of the same communication,” Veronesi said. “The idea is to offer a show -- it’s a way to make the brand more welcoming, more interesting, more up-to-date.”

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