Former Fastweb telecoms CEO takes control of Italian luxury lingerie brand La Perla

MILAN – An Italian businessman who founded several technology firms and has been embroiled in a complex tax evasion trial won control Tuesday of the struggling La Perla luxury lingerie and beachwear brand, beating out Italian hosiery and bathing suit maker Calzedonia.

Silvio Scaglia, who founded both the Omnitel phone company and then Fastweb broadband provider before selling them off at a healthy profit, has more recently turned his attentions to the fashion business. He recently bought the Elite modeling agency, which he said led him to consider La Perla.

“We realized that Elite has the potential to really add value to a company like La Perla due to its relationship to the fashion business, links to music to entertainment, all of this tends to point more and more to the luxury consumer,” Scaglia said in an interview. “The fashion world is one where Italy has clear excellence. I see the potential with it very clearly.”

Scaglia’s SMS Finance holding company made the winning bid in a Bologna bankruptcy court of 69 million euros ($90 million), 1 million euros more than Calzedonia’s bid.

Scaglia has pledged to maintain all 800 employees and to invest at least 110 million euros to relaunch the brand, which has seen sales shrink to 100 million euros last year from 250 million a decade ago. The family-run company launched in 1954 was sold to the U.S. private equity fund JH Partners in 2007, which initiated pre-bankruptcy proceedings.

Under the deal, Scaglia will lease the assets until the bankruptcy proceedings are completed, at which time he will get full ownership. His goal is to double sales in a year.

“There has been a significant reduction in sales volumes. I think a good deal of this was management mistakes. The reaction to the crisis has been to cut costs to the point of the real muscle, and not just the fat,” Scaglia said in an interview.

His plans include revamping the retail network and more actively inserting La Perla into the fashion network.

Scaglia founded Omnitel, which became Vodafone Italia, the Fastweb broadband company, which he sold to Swisscom, and the Babelgum Internet company. He is currently on trial in an alleged money-laundering scheme involving Fastweb and a Telecom Italia unit, and spent a year between 2010-2011 either in jail or under house arrest. He has denied any wrongdoing, and said the court in Rome released his assets about six months ago. He expressed confidence that he will be acquitted when a verdict in the complex trial with dozens of defendants is due after the summer.

“The fact I am investing so much in Italy I think is the best proof I can give you that I am confident in the court’s judgment,” he said.