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Garment

By JASON BOOTH

Staff Reporter

Two old-time names in L.A. women’s apparel have joined hands, bringing swimwear and lingerie under the same ownership.

Sirena Apparel Group, an El Monte-based swimwear company, purchased lingerie maker Jezebel/Renee of Hollywood Inc., which had been owned by the Duchowny family since its founding in 1914.

The purchase price was not disclosed, since it will not have a “material” impact on Sirena earnings, said Maurice “Corky” Newman, chairman and chief operating officer of Sirena, a public company whose stock is traded on Nasdaq.

The deal is the first of several moves being pursued by Newman, who was brought in to run Sirena last September after serving as president of the CaliforniaMart apparel showroom in downtown Los Angeles.

“Jezebel is very compatible with us. We use the same resources. We even use the same sewing machines,” Newman said. “They are an old firm known for their workmanship, so that gives us a base on which to build a licensing business.”

Sirena is no stranger to licensing. Its existing swimwear line is sold both under its own label and under licenses to Liz Claiborne and Ann Klein.

Newman’s goal is to build Sirena’s revenues to $100 million by 1999. Sirena and Jezebel posted 1997 revenues of $44 million and $6.5 million, respectively.

Besides bulking up revenues, the Jezebel acquisition is expected to help smooth out Sirena’s seasonal performance, said Newman. Sirena’s swimsuit business is strongest in the spring and summer months but it slumps during the winter.

Intimate wear also has a long-term advantage in that its fashion trends are fairly stable, meaning designs created this year may remain popular for 10 or 20 years, said Jennifer Black, an analyst at Portland, Ore.-based investment research firm Black & Co. Inc.

So far, investors appear to like what Newman has been doing. After he joined, Sirena’s stock price rose almost 50 percent to the $4 level. Since then, it has given back some of that gain, closing Feb. 12 at $3.69.

That’s still a far cry from the $8 it was trading at in 1995. Between mid-1995 and mid-1996, Sirena’s stock dropped about 75 percent, due largely to a series of cold summers that reduced the demand for swimsuits, said Black.

Susan Colman, president and third-generation owner of Jezebel, will stay on as president of the division. She estimated that 90 percent of her firm’s roughly 75 employees will be retained.

By joining a larger company, Jezebel will have access to the financial backing and marketing network needed to capture a larger share of the innerwear market, Colman said.

“We feel there is a wonderful opportunity for synergy,” she said. “I believe that with Sirena we can make Jezebel a worldwide name.”

Black concurred that Jezebel needed outside clout to move forward.

“Jezebel has a great brand name, but you need more than that in such a competitive market,” said Black. “You need to have a partnership with one of the bigger brands or you are going to get crushed.”

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