March 15, 2010

Los Angeles, CA – March 15, 2010 –OpenGate Capital, a global private equity firm, will acquire the highly respected fashion label NICOLE FARHI from French Connection Group PLC in a transaction expected to close within the next 90 days.  The deal is the third major equity investment by OpenGate in the past 12 months and further extends the firm’s mission of acquiring high potential divisions and subsidiaries from leading global enterprises.

Under the terms of the agreement, the design house will continue to be based in London with offices and showrooms in Milan.  OpenGate Capital founder and CEO Andrew Nikou will be named the chairman of NICOLE FARHI.

“Nicole Farhi is an iconic designer and her elegant and sophisticated fashion sense has been a runway landmark since the brand’s inception,” Nikou said.  “We are excited to be working with Nicole and her management team to expand the company’s retail network in cities such as Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, while continuing to build the wholesale distribution network internationally.”

As part of the transaction, OpenGate will acquire all inventory, retail locations, and intellectual property under the NICOLE FARHI label.  Nicole Farhi, who founded the label in 1983, will continue in her role as Creative Director and Niki Scordi, currently Managing Director, will be promoted to CEO.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the NICOLE FARHI brand,” Farhi said.  “French Connection has played an integral role in our success over the years and I look forward to working closely with our new partners at OpenGate Capital to take the company in an exciting new direction.”

This transaction is part of a larger effort by OpenGate Capital to acquire iconic brands across the fashion, entertainment and media industries.  It follows the acquisition of TVGuide Magazine, one of the most popular magazines in the United States with more than 20 million weekly readers; Models1, the leading model and talent agency in Europe; and Fleurus Presse and Junior Hebdo, the youth publications divisions of leading French media company Groupe Le Monde.

“OpenGate Capital will be working to significantly improve upon NICOLE FARHI’s strong business fundamentals in order to achieve sustainable profitability as early as the first year of ownership,” said Robert Lezec, partner, OpenGate Capital.  “We also plan to further develop the online distribution channel and will pursue selected licensing opportunities to fully leverage the brand’s far-reaching design and creative resources.”

Born in Nice and trained in fashion design, Farhi began her career in Paris as a freelance designer, before moving to London in the early 1970’s to work with Stephen Marks on the French Connection brand. In 1983 Marks launched the NICOLE FARHI brand, giving the designer an opportunity to create a collection of clothes that she herself really wanted to wear.  A menswear collection was launched in 1989, followed by the diffusion line for men and women, now called FARHI by Nicole Farhi, in 1996.  In September 1994, Farhi opened a flagship store on London’s New Bond Street, including the restaurant, Nicole’s.

An eight time British Fashion Awards nominee, Nicole Farhi won the British Classics award in 1989 and the Contemporary collections award three years running, from 1995 to 1997. Nicole Farhi was also named Menswear Designer of the Year at the 2000 FHM Awards.  In 2008, she was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire), as well as a Lifetime Achievement prize at the First Women Awards and named Entrepreneur of the Year, at London’s Francais of the Year Awards.  In 2010, Nicole Farhi was recognized in France’s Legion d’ Honneur awards list.

For the transaction OpenGate Capital was advised by lawyers Maxwell Winward.  Legal and financial advisors to French Connection were Osborne Clarke and Paris-based Richard Morgan Advisory.