Estee Lauder is jealous of Tom Ford fragrances. Do you enjoy fashion?

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Opinion

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This statement would be true if Estee Lauder Cos. acquired Tom Ford for $3 billion.

While the cosmetics team may aspire to full control of Tom Ford’s beauty and fragrance arm, its association with the company’s clothing and accessories will be more extensive.

In the year The iconic beauty, eyewear and apparel company, founded in 2005 by a former creative director of Gucci, is working with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to explore a possible sale, Bloomberg News reported last month. On Monday, Dow Jones reported that Estee Lauder is in talks to buy the brand.

Estee Lauder has a long-term licensing arrangement for Tom Ford’s high-end beauty and fragrance lines. Cosmetics giant Tom Ford and co-owner Joe Malone have each come close to bringing in $1 billion in annual revenue, he said. That may explain Este’s interest — the company isn’t commenting at this time — because it doesn’t want to lose that lucrative licensing deal to a rival.

But Tom Ford’s business is not only about beauty. It also has an eyewear business that is produced and distributed by Marcolin SpA. There is no reason why this event cannot continue under the stewardship of Estee Lauder. The hardest part will be the Tom Ford clothing and accessories. Estee is not a natural owner of a fashion house, so she probably needs to find a luxury partner with expertise in clothes.

This may not be one of the bling behemoths like LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE or Gucci-owner Kering SA. Why do you agree to produce the clothes and accessories without beauty?

A smaller luxury group like Ermenegildo Zegna Holditalia SpA or Diesel would make more sense. And Zegna already has a business relationship with Tom Ford. Former Gucci CEO Domenico De Sole, who is now chairman of the Tom Ford brand, sits on Zegna’s board.

So why doesn’t Citizen buy Tom Ford himself? It will be a valuable addition to his portfolio along with the smaller Thom Browne label he acquired four years ago. The sticking point may be the price tag. Although Zegna has a strong balance sheet after listing as a special-purpose buyout company in New York last year, the enterprise is valued at about $3 billion, around the price Estee Lauder is reportedly considering paying Tom Ford.

Tom Ford wants to see some of the rich multiples it’s paid for its cosmetics and skin care accounts over the past five years, marketing itself as a beauty business.

Meanwhile, anyone making Tom Ford tailored suits or one-shoulder mini dresses will be out of business. To get more consumers to buy expensive lipsticks and perfumes, they need to position the brand at the top of the luxury hierarchy. And although Tom Ford’s strength is in apparel, it lacks a luxury handbag line, the real profit driver of the luxury industry.

It is unclear whether Ford himself was part of the arrangement. According to Bloomberg News, the deal could include an option to work with the founder after the sale. That could leave a private equity firm interested in the beauty business as a potential buyer. But as financial markets settle, conditions may become more difficult.

Estee Lauder will own a Tom Ford like any good, but it will have some complications to iron out. The method shows that the beauty of this deal is more than skin deep.

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felstead is a Bloomberg opinion columnist covering the consumer goods and retail industry. She was previously a reporter for the Financial Times.

More stories like this can be found at bloomberg.com/opinion



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