By  on December 21, 2006

MILAN — Prada Group announced Wednesday that it has regained full control of British footwear brand Church's.

The Italian luxury goods company bought back a 55 percent stake in Church's it had sold to Luxembourg-based private equity investment firm Equinox in 2003. A Prada spokesman declined to disclose financial details of the transaction.

"I am happy to acquire 100 percent of Church's," Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli said in a statement. "It's a vote of confidence in our strategy for the past two years, which has led the Group to focus on its core brands and on the best opportunities to grow revenues and profitability."

After a spending spree in the late Nineties and a performance below expectations, Bertelli decided two years ago to focus on core brands with growth potential. Last year, Prada shed the troubled Jil Sander and Helmut Lang brands, selling the first to London-based Change Capital Partners and the latter to Link Theory Holdings Co. Ltd., based in Tokyo. The group currently controls the Prada, Miu Miu, Car Shoe and Azzedine Alaïa brands.

Church's has stores in 40 countries, 26 of which are directly operated. The company estimated revenues for 2006 at 62 million euros, or $80.6 million at current exchange rate, rising from 56 million euros, or $72.8 million, the previous year.

In the statement, Prada said it "now aims to accelerate the development of the Church's brand" by doubling the retail store network in the next three years. Stores are slated to open in the brand's most important markets: the Far East, Japan, Europe and the U.S. Church's just tapped former LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Italia executive Agostino Ropolo to head retail development

To further grow his group, Bertelli said this month he was reconsidering a public listing for 2008, after previously pulling the plug on the plan four times.

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