In a move that appears to run counter to fashion industry’s faith in the power of shoes to buoy profits, Kering, the French luxury and sports lifestyle group that owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, among other brands, is selling its only shoe house, Sergio Rossi, to Investindustrial, a European investment firm.
Kering has owned Sergio Rossi since 1999, but despite changing designers and chief executives numerous times, the group has not been able to raise its profile and to expand the business the way it did with its other small brands, like Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
Sergio Rossi is the first luxury brand that Kering has sold since 2009, when it disposed of the watchmaker Bedat & Co. (The group sold Tretorn, a brand in its sports lifestyle portfolio, in June.)
The latest move suggests that a pure-play accessory label may not fit easily into the strategic mold used for a more diversified ready-to-wear house, and that much-vaunted manufacturing synergies for leather goods may be more complicated to achieve than they first appear.
And it raises the question of whether the shoe fairy tale that fashion has been telling for the past few years may instead be a case of Cinderella’s pumpkin.
After all, shoes have been an explosive growth category since the recession, as consumers eschew high-price ready-to-wear in favor of easier-to-budget accessories, and as competition in the sector has been heating up.
Department stores from Macy’s to Harrods to Lane Crawford have been competing to open the biggest shoe floor (that honor goes to the Level Shoe District in Dubai, a 96,000-square-foot extravagance). In 2013, Kering’s chief rival, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, bought Nicholas Kirkwood, a British shoe brand, while last year Jimmy Choo became the first shoe brand to issue an I.P.O.
Christian Louboutin and Giuseppe Zanotti are routinely talked about as possible candidates to follow in Jimmy Choo’s footsteps in going public, and Louboutin recently started a very high-end (nail polish for $50 a bottle) beauty line. Paul Andrew, a young shoe designer, was the recipient of the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award.
Yet Kering seems to have missed the moment with Sergio Rossi, even as its sister brand Gucci has had enormous success with their kangaroo-lined horsebit house slipper/loafer, which was as close as any brand came to creating an It shoe this fall.
Whether this is the exception to the trend or a harbinger of the future is now a crucial question for the industry, as well as for the consumers who have been the beneficiaries of the shoe boom. What is sure is that Kering’s peers will be watching to see if Investindustrial can turn Sergio Rossi around, or whether, in fact, this is the point at which the stiletto snaps.
An earlier version of this article misspelled part of the name of one of the shoe companies that are routinely talked about as possible candidates to go public. It is Giuseppe Zanotti, not Guiseppe Zanotti.