Fashion Versus Finance: Prada’s Bertelli Criticizes Analysts’ Numbers Game

Prada ceo Patrizio Bertelli has gotten buyer interest in Helmut Lang and said he'd sell Jil Sander if the right offer came along.

View Slideshow

MILAN — Fashion is not a numbers game — at least according to Patrizio Bertelli.

But while the president and chief executive officer of Prada Holding NV is no fan of the financial markets’ focus on just the numbers, he has some big ones of his own in mind when it comes to Jil Sander and its possible sale.

Speaking at a luxury goods conference Wednesday organized by The Wall Street Journal, Italian publisher Class Editori and Merrill Lynch, Bertelli questioned the increasingly incestuous relationship between the banking world and fashion, criticizing analysts’ valuation methods and the financial industry’s pressure to produce results in the short term.

“Analysts are wrong to look just at the numbers. They don’t consider what’s really important to building a global brand: time and history,” Bertelli said.

Bertelli, rare to public speaking engagements, kicked off the conference with a multifaceted speech that extolled the virtues of Italian production, stressed the importance of global brand building and criticized the banking industry’s increasing involvement in the fashion business.

Referencing the conference’s theme on niche and large-scale strategies, Bertelli said it’s more important to focus on whether a brand “enters the collective consciousness” than its mere size. As evidence that Prada has made such an impact, Bertelli referred to an art installation of a replica Prada store recently built in the Texas desert by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset.

“A brand, when it is global, has to preserve step after step … all of the characteristics of innovation, identity, communication and quality, and do something unique and recognizable all over the world,” he said.

As for a possible initial public offering — a prospect Prada has postponed four times — Bertelli demurred on that topic in a joking reference to the conference setting, the Milan Stock Exchange. “We are already at the borsa,” he laughed.

Bertelli said he would consider selling Jil Sander if the offer was “very, very, very good.” He also revealed that buyers have expressed interest in Helmut Lang.

“We are restructuring [Jil Sander] and converting an entrepreneurial business into an industrial one,” he said.

This story first appeared in the December 1, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Those statements confirm a WWD report in October that Prada is focusing on its Prada and Miu Miu brands as it maps out its five-year strategic plan. To that end, Prada recently formed a new company called Prada SpA Group, which excludes the money-losing businesses of Helmut Lang and Jil Sander and a minority stake in shoemaker Church’s.

Bertelli reiterated that Prada is looking to boost efficiencies at money-losing Jil Sander by transferring operations from Germany to Italy. He also restated that Prada has halted production of Helmut Lang as it mulls whether to sell the brand.

The Prada ceo wasn’t the only one to take a shot at the financial markets. Other conference attendees also touched on the connection between finance and fashion, or lack thereof. Milan stock market executive director Raffaele Ierusalmi and head of Merrill Lynch Italy Maurizio Tamagnini both criticized the lack of listed fashion companies in Italy.

“Fashion and luxury are a diamond of Italian industry and they are very appreciated abroad,” noted Ierusalmi. “We think that the borsa is fundamental for growth and becoming an industry leader.”

Still, being a publicly traded company has its drawbacks, as Tod’s ceo Diego Della Valle pointed out. He said companies feel the heat to produce stellar results every three months while investors should consider the long-term picture.

“We shouldn’t fall in love with the numbers but rather be in love with excellence,” he said.

View Slideshow