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Louis Vuitton owner LVMH reportedly in talks to buy Rapha

French luxury goods powerhouse and British upmarket clothing firm both decline to comment on rumoured deal

Luxury goods powerhouse LVMH, which was recently linked with Italian bike manufacturer Pinarello, is reportedly in talks to buy upmarket British cycling clothing brand, Rapha, according to the Mail on Sunday.

The London-based business, which has supplied Team Sky for the past three seasons but will no longer do so in 2017, was founded in 2004 by Simon Mottram, whose background is in brand consultancy.

Helped by the boom in road cycling over the past decade or so in the UK and elsewhere – the US, Australia and Japan are all significant markets for Rapha – the company achieved turnover of £48.8 million in the year to 31 January 2016, with pre-tax profit of £1.1 million.

The Mail on Sunday says that while a source confirmed the two parties were in talks, neither LVMH nor Rapha would comment.

Paris-based LVMH, owner of brands including Louis Vuitton, Moet & Chandon, Marc Jacobs, Dior, TAG Heuer and Bulgari, is known to be keen to build its presence in the sports and leisure sectors.

> More details emerge of rumoured LVMH Pinarello deal

Earlier this year, LVMH together with the family holding company of CEO Bernard Arnault, took a stake in American private equity house Catterton, which specialised in investing in mid-market companies.

The new business, L Catterton, has investments in businesses including activewear brand Sweaty Betty and pet food manufacturer Lily’s Kitchen, while its holdings in the sports sector include compression clothing maker 2XU, the Peloton at-home fitness bike, sports drinks and supplements manufacturer X2 Performance, and the 360fly action camera brand.

Rapha is a brand that splits opinion like few others. Critics see it as overpriced, pretentious and taking itself too seriously, and it has inspired several spoof websites.

The company’s success, however, demonstrates that Mottram and his team understand their target market, who besides buying its products can unwind, watch races or join group rides at its shop-café Rapha Clubhouse stores.

There are 14 worldwide now as well as an outlet store in Somerset, complemented by occasional pop-ups elsewhere and Mobile Clubhouses on four continents.

Talking to BikeBiz in 2011 about one of those spoof websites, set up by a group calling itself Jens Voight Army (JVA), Mottram said: "Having detractors is part and parcel of having a distinctive brand.

"If you mean a lot to some people, you are almost bound to aggravate others. We would always rather have people loving or hating us than people not having an opinion. People don't parody or copy weak or uninteresting brands. Team JVA is proof to me that we are getting things right."

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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