Michael-Bastian-Slider-Images-featuredMichael Bastian has a new partner.

Bluestar Alliance LLC has signed a definite agreement to acquire a “significant interest” in Michael Bastian Inc. for an undisclosed amount. Bluestar declined to provide the percentage of its stake, but Bastian said the brand management firm purchased the “majority of the intellectual property” of the label. The designer will retain a key portion of the business and will remain in complete control of the luxury portion of the label.

The new joint venture, MB Brand Holdings LLC, will expand the Michael Bastian footprint into mid-level retailers with a line of licensed tailored clothing and sportswear before the end of this year.

“I think we’re the first M&A of the year,” said Ralph Gindi, chief operating officer of Bluestar. “We’re committed to the joint venture and are prepared to put significant marketing money and a significant budget behind this diamond in the rough.”

He said Bastian “is a natural fit within Bluestar’s current portfolio of luxury designer brands and rounds out the men’s side of our business.”

Bluestar is a closed private equity fund with $350 million of committed capital. Founded in 2007 by Joseph Gabbay and Gindi, it owns, manages and markets brands including Nanette Lepore, Catherine Malandrino, Kensie, Mac + Jac, Joan Vass, Kooba, Yak Pak, English Laundry, Limited Too, Harvé Benard and Larry Levine.

This is the second acquisition of an American men’s designer label in the past several months. In November, American Eagle Outfitters bought the Todd Snyder business for $11 million.

Gabbay said, “There is a tremendous void in the market for a true American men’s designer brand. By working with him [Bastian] to develop a new mid-level department store tier to his business, we will be able to offer his unique American point of view at affordable luxury price points.”

He said that following the sportswear and tailored clothing launch, several other category expansions will also be revealed in the coming weeks.

The designer will work closely with the licensees to “ensure the design aesthetic of the Michael Bastian brand that he is so well known for carries throughout all product lines,” Gabbay said.

Bastian, a one-time men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, started his own label in 2006.

He called the Bluestar deal “a milestone in the history of our brand. While we have always been known for our luxury designer line, which we will still maintain, the expansion into new categories, markets and tiers of business is an important step in our goal of becoming a truly global lifestyle brand.”

For the first five years, Bastian said the label had a partnership with Brunello Cucinelli, which was primarily for production and distribution. But for the past five years, it has been self-funded.

“It’s not easy for an independent luxury brand,” he admitted. “It’s like pushing a rock up a hill. A lot of designers in my generation are not standing.”

But Bastian found lucrative streams of revenue over the past decade. In 2010, he partnered with Gant to create men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, eyewear and watches under the Gant by Michael Bastian label. That association ended with the fall 2014 collection.

In the summer of 2013, Bastian collaborated with Tokyo-based Uniqlo on a line of polo shirts for two seasons.

It is these collaborations that will serve the designer well as he moves into the more-commercial part of the market. “We’ve always been trading at the other level,” Bastian said, “but it will be great to do it under our own name.”

He said the Gant line was positioned at contemporary price points and did not bastardize the higher-end collection. As a result, “it’ll be really easy” to do both, he said.

Gindi said Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom are the retailers that Bluestar initially will target for the lower-priced line. The Michael Bastian luxury line is carried in Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York, Mr Porter, Matchesfashion and a range of specialty stores.

“It’s really just a natural extension of what he’s doing,” Gindi said.

Gindi said he expects to offer “a small collection for holiday, just to get the consumer excited,” and a “full blowout” for 2017. “The young contemporary space is a great space,” he said, pointing to the success of Bluestar’s Kensie line and the recent extension of Nanette Lepore into denim.

International expansion is also in the cards, with plans to bring the line to Japan, Korea, Central and South America and other countries.

“Our international business was never properly developed,” Bastian said. “We had a big business [overseas], but it was hard to sustain with a five-person team in New York.”

The associations with Sweden’s Gant and Tokyo’s Uniqlo, however, brought the Bastian name to other markets. “The name got around the world one way or the other,” the designer said with a laugh. But with Bluestar’s pocketbook, the brand will soon into new markets.

The initial meetings between Bluestar and Bastian started in July, they said, and took until now to complete.

“It’s like a marriage in a lot of ways,” Bastian said.

“We found Michael to be an incredible designer who has developed his own DNA,” Gindi said. But he also has business savvy. “You have to be able to work both sides of the counter.”

Bastian has been nominated for the CFDA Menswear award six times and won in 2011. He also was selected by GQ twice for its Best New Menswear Designer in America award.

Bluestar’s brands have current retail sales in excess of $1.5 billion and the company manages over 200 licensees who distribute product throughout North America, Europe, Australia, South America and Asia.

http://wwd.com/menswear-news/designer-luxury/bluestar-alliance-michael-bastian-ralph-gindi-joseph-gabbay-10305530/