The recently refinanced Alain Mikli International has acquired a 75 percent stake in Sporoptic Pouilloux, the licensee for the once famous sunglasses that bear the name of a former French Olympic ski champion, Jean Vuarnet, who won the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley. The 75-year-old Joseph Hatchiguian, who launched the Vuarnet line in 1960, will keep the remaining stake and concentrate on the development of a new high-tech sunlens.

The acquisition, whose terms are being kept confidential, will give Mikli numerous opportunities to develop in the sunwear sector, which now represents only 20 percent of the company's sales. The investment follows the previously reported acquisition last spring of a 47 percent stake in Alain Mikli's company by a London-based investment fund, Neo Capital. The designer Alain Mikli, who is aged 55, kept 47 percent of the shares and agreed to concentrate on design and communication, leaving the management in the hands of Dominique Alba, who owns the remaining 6 percent.

Under the management of Alba, a 52-year-old executive who formerly ran Logo, the group is in now aiming for total annual revenues of €140 million by 2013, comprising €80 million worth of prescription frames and €80 million for sunglasses. The number of Alain Mikli stores is due to be expanded at the same time from 24 to 80, all trading under the same banner.

For the year ended last Aug. 30, Mikli's sales declined from €53 million to €50 million, due to major restructuring measures, but it broke even, after a loss of €300,000 in the previous year. It is now aiming for an operating margin (Ebit) of 15 percent on sales of €52 million in the current financial year, thanks to a reduction in total expenses. The number of employees has been reduced from 375 to 322. Half of them are involved in sales operations and 42 in product development and marketing.

The figures budgeted for the current financial year don't include the results of Vuarnet eyewear, which made losses in the past two years, representing lately a negative margin of 12 percent on annual sales of about €10 million. Last year it only sold 190,000 pairs compared with more than one million in the 1980s, after the brand became the official supplier to the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984, challenging the leadership of Ray-Ban on the U.S. market. Half of the volume is still sold in the U.S. While Mikli's total sales were only €15 million back in 1990, those of Vuarnet eyewear were €28 million.

Since the 1990s, Hatchiguian has been resisting the very generous offers of some foreign investors and of Mikli himself, preferring instead to inject more and more equity into the company. Because of the financial difficulties, he sold back three years ago the perpetual rights that he had obtained on Vuarnet eyewear, but he recently concluded a new 10-year licensing deal, and about one month ago he decided to approach the designer Alain Mikli to discuss possible cooperation. Aside from the fact that he is Armenian like him (his real name is Alain Miklitarian), Hatchiguian wanted a French solution of his company's problems, and he appreciated his qualities as an eyewear designer.

The designer wants to work hard to put together a nice new collection of Vuarnet sunglasses, starting with a revisited line of Vuarnet's famous 002 Cateye style at the next Mido. He plans to develop the collection more in the area of sailing-inspired sunwear, but most of the results will start to become visible in 2011.

Mikli's company plans to invest €4 millionover the next five years for the development of Vuarnet, which will continue to be run as a stand-alone operation. Its sales and marketing team will be boosted. In connection with the 50th anniversary of the line, the brand will get a lot of visibility at next year's Olympic Games in Vancouver, where it will be the sponsor of the national ski teams of France, Italy, Russia and Romania.

The future of Vuarnet eyewear's staff of 45 people is being made dependent on sales results, with the idea of bringing the company back to profits by the end of 2010. Its sophisticated lens manufacturing operation in Meaux, which employs 15 people, should remain operational and a decision should be taken by next February on Vuarnet's production facility for nylon frames in the Jura region of France.

Mikli's strong international sales apparatus and its growing retail network should help Vuarnet to expand its global presence. About 80 percent of Mikli's sales are now realized outside France. The company has its own sales operations in the U.S., Italy, Spain, Germany, the Benelux countries, the U.K., Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and China, and it is now launching its brands in Latin America.

Founded in 1978, the company has 23 stores whose sales generate 23 percent of the total turnover. They sell all its various lines, including the more technical Starck Eyes line and the more affordable Mikli collection. They will also offer Vuarnet sunglasses and their number will grow especially in the U.S. and Asia. Vuarnet's original store in Paris will be redesigned.