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An IPO for hipsters: Moleskine plans Milan float

Moleskin notebooks.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Italian notebook maker Moleskine plans to list in Milan this year and has hired investment banks to run the sale of stock in the company, whose thread-bound jotters are based on originals favoured by the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway.

While a string of flotations worldwide have been blown off course by choppy markets, with German chemical company Evonik the latest casualty, high-end brands have fared better with investor demand boosted by the industry performing well despite global economic uncertainty.

Private equity firm Syntegra Capital plans to file listing documents for Moleskine, in which it owns a 68 per cent stake, in early September and is aiming for a market debut in the fourth quarter, said Marco Ariello, a partner at Syntegra.

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"An IPO is the right thing for the future of the company," Mr. Ariello told Reuters on Monday.

Goldman Sachs, Mediobanca and UBS will run the offering.

In April, Italian cashmere house Brunello Cucinelli and high-end luggage maker Tumi Holdings both saw their stock surge on their debuts in Milan and New York respectively, while shares in luxury brand Michael Kors Holdings are more than a third above their Dec. 15 trading debut price.

"We need the market conditions to be better, but Moleskine is a premium brand in (terms of) pricing power and positioning. Valuations and market appetite for premium brands is stronger than for average brands even at difficult times," said Mr. Ariello.

But getting the valuation right will still be a balance. Luxury London jeweller Graff Diamonds was forced to pull its $1-billion Hong Kong offering last month as analysts and fund managers questioned its valuation.

Moleskine, a company which was created in 1997 to revive the style of notebook favoured by artists and writers in the 19th and 20th Centuries, has seen growth of around 25 per cent a year since Syntegra bought a 75 per cent stake for around $75.8-million in 2006.

The company takes its name from a nickname given to the notebooks by writer Bruce Chatwin, another customer of the originals made by Paris bookbinders. They are actually bound in oil-cloth covered cardboard.

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In early 2011, when venture capital firm Index Ventures bought a 15 percent stake, the company said its turnover had grown from 80 million euros in 2006 to more than 200 million in 2010.

The offering is likely to be made up mostly of existing shares, Mr. Ariello said. He declined to comment on potential valuations for the company, or how big a stake would be sold, but said Syntegra intended to retain some of its holding following the listing to benefit from its expected future value.

The rest of the company's shares are owned by founder Francesco Franceschi and company management.

Moleskine, whose products also include journals, diaries and city guides, has grown from 15 employees in 2006 to well over 100 and has offices in Milan, New York and Hong Kong.

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