Discount darling Tati falls to French bidder

5th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 5 (AFP) - Tati, the discount empire which has dressed poor and posh in Paris for over 50 years, left the hands of its founding family Thursday after a court chose the French group Vetura to rescue it from bankruptcy.

PARIS, Aug 5 (AFP) - Tati, the discount empire which has dressed poor and posh in Paris for over 50 years, left the hands of its founding family Thursday after a court chose the French group Vetura to rescue it from bankruptcy.

A French commercial court selected Vetura, which owns the Fabio Lucci brand, from a pool of a dozen contenders to acquire the mythic pink-and-white-checked logo, with a EUR 14.5 million (USD 17.4 million) bid.

Vetura won out after promising to retain 667 of Tati's nearly 1,000 employees and all but six of its 29 outlets in France, which run from candy stores and wedding boutiques to larger emporiums hawking a more traditional mix of cheap basics like leggings, lipstick and washing liquid.

Tati opened its doors in 1948 as a small shop run by Tunisian immigrant Jules Ouaki on the northern boulevard Barbes in one of the city's poorest districts. Ouaki moved clothes out from behind the counter and into big, messy bins, and added large price markers - a revolution in retail.

"My father was sensitive to the shame felt by all those of meagre means who never dared ask for a (lower) price due to fear of humiliation," Fabien Ouaki, the founder's son who took over the group in 1991, told Elle magazine in 1998.

As Tati grew, it opened a store in the capital's chic Saint Germain district, sparking a new trend in discreet discount shopping by some of the French elite.

Under Fabien Ouaki, Tati diversified and expanded wildly, opening specialised stores for jewellery, eyeglasses, weddings and even travel. "One in every 10 weddings sees a bride wearing a Tati gown," Jules Ouaki once claimed.

It branched out from purveying to the poor, to trying to win a more middle-class clientele, and designer Azzedine Alaia came up with t-shirts, handbags and shoes for the company.

Alaia even used Tati's signature pink and white gingham-check print in his own 1991 collection.

The group opened stores in Cameroon, Gabon and Ivory Coast, and had goods sold in department stores from Moscow to Beirut.

But though it revolutionised discount shopping, Tati was ultimately overcome by stiff competition in the bargain business.

Core customers flocked to hypermarkets for cheap knock-offs, while stores like Spain's Zara and Sweden's Hennes and Mauritz (H and M) catered to a young, fashion-conscious clientele looking for trendy styles at reasonable prices.

Fabien Ouaki, 45, too, reluctantly took up the reins of the family business only after another brother, the preferred successor, died.

"I took on this heritage, and when one inherits it is not merely money but also an obligation to uphold what your father has done. I accept this, and I want to succeed," he said on the radio in 2002.

While overextending the Tati empire, he found time to record an album with his rock group (Ouaki plays the drums) in 1998 and hang around horse stables also inherited from his father (and sold in 2003).

Ouaki, a Buddhist, also co-authored a book of discussions with the Dalai Lama in 1998, "Life belongs to us".

In August 2003, Tati succumbed to the economic pressure, filed a declaration of suspension of payments with a Paris commercial court and was placed in receivership.

It posted net losses of EUR14 million (USD 16.9 million) for the2003-2004 business year that ended June 30, on sales of EUR 106 million.

Vetura and the Asiatex group were the most serious contenders considered by court administrators overseeing the sell-off this year.

Vetura is jointly owned by the shoe company Eram and businessman Lucien Urano, who said he was "very satisfied" by the decision Thursday.

"I am very proud to take over a brand as emblematic as Tati. From tomorrow we will start working to ensure that Tati's difficulties are quickly forgotten."

The court allowed five stores not being acquired by Vetura to stay open for two months while other buyers are sought. The remaining store was recently closed.

"From now we have two months to continue this (business) activity and try to sell these stores to other buyers," Tati lawyer Bertrand Biette said.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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