Kitty Little's sights on top French group: Shares suspended in bid for France's biggest maker of spectacle frames

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The Independent Online
KITTY LITTLE, a small listed company that makes sunglasses and air fresheners, plans to take over Groupe L'Amy, the biggest manufacturer of spectacle frames in France. Dealings in Kitty Little's shares were suspended at 41p.

Martin Franklin, 29, who five years ago took part in the pounds 700m takeover of DRG, the Sellotape and Basildon Bond group, is behind the deal to buy the debt-burdened French group.

Mr Franklin took over last December as chairman of Kitty Little, which has a market value of pounds 8m. Groupe L'Amy, whose brands include Lacoste and Nina Ricci, had sales of pounds 62.5m last year.

Mr Franklin is the son of Roland Franklin, a former director of Keyser Ullman, the merchant bank that collapsed in the 1970s. The Franklins' break-up of DRG ran into difficulties in the recession.

Martin Franklin, who is based in New York, said the purchase of Groupe L'Amy was subject only to the completion of a due diligence investigation and finalising the company's structure. He said he had already agreed finance with the banks.

'It's going to require a large issuance of equity,' he said. 'It's not going to be a leveraged company. The banks will equitise some of their interests and write off others.' Mr Franklin said excessive debt was at the root of Groupe L'Amy's problems, but he was 'comfortable' with the French company's existing operating management. It had run into difficulties because of debt taken on in the course of failed deals.

Kitty Little already holds the rights to Foster Grant sunglasses, which it bought from Benson Eyecare, Mr Franklin's dollars 150m US company. It bought Samco, another sunglasses business, just before Benson Eyecare took a 28 per cent stake last year.

The original air freshener and fragrances business with which Kitty Little came to the Unlisted Securities Market in 1988 will be a very small part of the enlarged group.

The company appointed Credit Lyonnais Laing two days ago to help with the Groupe L'Amy deal.

Mr Franklin said the DRG purchase was 'the right deal at the wrong time'. Although his backers made a loss, it was not a disaster and much better than other transactions done at around the same time.

Roland Franklin has retired and lives in Antigua.