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SK Holdings Invests in Alice + Olivia

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The South Korean conglomerate is also said to have taken a stake in Canadian outerwear brand Mackage in the spring.

Alice + Olivia has a new foreign backer who’s suddenly keen on the American fashion space.

Sources said SK Holdings — one of the largest conglomerates in South Korea — recently took a minority stake in the company, which was founded in 2002 by Stacey Bendet and has been on and off the market in recent years.

Neither Alice + Olivia nor SK responded to requests for comment Tuesday.

The brand, which touts itself as juxtaposing whimsical and flirty with sexy and sophisticated, has a host of celebrity fans, including Gwyneth Paltrow and former First Lady Michelle Obama, and is sold through its web site, 35 boutiques and more than 800 wholesale accounts.

Shortly after Bendet founded the company, she linked with Andrew Rosen, Theory chief executive officer and serial investor, who took a stake in the business. Bendet leads the brand as ceo and creative director.

It is not clear how much of Alice + Olivia traded hands and whether Bendet or Rosen or both sold and at what price, but financial sources said the company explored numerous options while it was on the market.

While sources in the market said the brand had a tough start to the year — a rough stretch in general for fashion, when retailers were shuttering doors and brands of all stripes struggled to engage consumers — other sources said its sales are ahead for 2017.

Alice + Olivia has clearly been busy lately with plenty of growth initiatives. The brand teamed with Camuto Group for footwear in August, created a limited-edition capsule collection with The Beatles in October and launched a new denim brand AO.LA last month.

Asked about the inspiration behind the denim launch, Bendet said: “I’ve always designed with the goal of dressing a woman for all aspects of her life. AO.LA began as a concept, my sort of West Coast alter ego, the casual weekend cool, the dressed up jean. The inspiration image for the collection was a picture of my mom in her wedding gown with a pair of big bell bottom jeans underneath. It resonated with me. Jeans are so much a part of a woman’s life, her memories, her life stories…and that’s what I set out to do with AO.LA., create jeans that make a woman feel empowered and good, jeans that tell a story.”

Now the brand is part of the emerging story at SK.

The South Korean giant has been testing the waters in fashion for some time, but appears to have only started making deals in North America this year.

SK invested alongside the Lee Equity-backed InterLuxe in Canadian outerwear brand Mackage in the spring, according to sources. WWD first to report that InterLuxe took a stake in Mackage, but SK’s investment is only now coming to light.

The two brands don’t have an obvious strategic fit, but rather seem to show a general interest in adding fashion to the company’s already broad portfolio. SK also has interests in information and communication technologies, shipping, storage, power generation, drugs that impact the central nervous system and semiconductor materials.