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DKI Attracting Suitors?

Speculation that Jones Apparel Group could by eyeing a purchase of Donna Karan International surfaced last week.

NEW YORK — Speculation that Jones Apparel Group could by eyeing a purchase of Donna Karan International surfaced last week.

It seems the rumors started, sources said, when Jones chief executive officer Peter Boneparth was spotted in the halls of Karan’s Seventh Avenue offices, but that could have been a simple courtesy call on behalf of Barneys New York, which Jones owns and for which Karan is a good customer. But a source in the banking community said he had heard Jones was in talks for bidding for Donna Karan. Other factoring sources said they had heard of no such discussions.

Boneparth is known, though, for bold moves and for not being afraid of a high price tag, such as the $397 million purchase of Barneys New York last December.

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which owns DKI, has said Karan is not for sale, but market sources believe it would sell it if it got the right price to at least recover its original investment. LVMH paid a grand total of $687 million for Karan’s assets ($400 million for the trademarks, $243 million to stockholders and another $43.8 million to the designer last year to increase its stake to 98 percent from 89 percent).

However, one source with knowledge of the company called Jones “an extreme dark horse” to buy DKI if it were for sale. The source said Liz Claiborne Inc. would make a more logical choice, since it already has the Donna Karan jeans license that runs another seven years. DKI is said to have experienced a turnaround in the last year under ceo Jeffry Aronsson and this enhanced profitability could make it more attractive to suitors.

A spokeswoman for DKI said Sunday “We don’t comment on rumors.”

Aronsson could not be reached for comment.