By  on February 23, 2006

MILAN — Only three days after Raf Simons showed his first women's wear collection for Jil Sander, the company is about to undergo another seismic change — new ownership.

Change Capital Partners, a London-based private equity fund headed by former Marks & Spencer chief executive Luc Vandevelde, is buying Sander from Prada Group, WWD has learned.

According to market sources, Change Capital intends to keep Simons and his creative teams, and not invite back the founding designer, who twice parted ways with Prada Group after selling her company to the Italian firm in 1999.

Sander's management, led by ceo Gian Giacomo Ferraris, also is expected to remain intact while the new owner leverages what it sees as high growth potential for the brand.

The deal, which could be announced as soon as today, could signal a new wave of mergers and acquisitions for the fashion and luxury sector (see related story, next page).

Details of the transaction could not immediately be learned, but it is believed the purchase price could be around 100 million euros, or $119.1 million at current exchange.

Prada Group is said to have held talks with several potential buyers for Sander, including other cash-rich European equity players. It also is understood several parties have expressed interest in the Prada-owned Helmut Lang business.

London-based Change Capital — a 300-million euro fund backed by the Halley family, major shareholders in French retailer Carrefour — clearly has stated its interest in fashion and retail concerns. Last October, it backed the buyout of Republic Retail Ltd., the young adult fashion retailer with 76 locations in the U.K., for 105 million pounds, or $183.2 million.

In an interview last year, Vandevelde told WWD: "Companies with a market-leading product and/or a strongly differentiated customer that offer platforms for growth [are the best investment opportunities].

"Companies that have embraced multichannel strategies and made them work, with robust distribution and fulfillment infrastructures, will rightly be seen by investors as attractive," he said then. "[We] are looking for companies where we can take controlling positions and can identify and create platforms for consolidation and growth."

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