Prada Group may be ready to cast off its Jil Sander and Helmut Lang brands, but will anyone else want them? Analysts, investors and retailers say the two brands — once coveted by luxury goods groups in the late Nineties — are no longer as successful as they once were and could be a hard sell in today’s marketplace.

The debate over the future of the two labels comes as Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli has revealed yet another postponement of the group’s initial public offering. It marks the fourth time the Italian luxury goods company has delayed an IPO, raising questions as to whether Prada will ever go public.

Bertelli appears to have renegotiated a deal with the banks to cover the 700 million euros, or $929.6 million, in bonds due next June, thus eliminating imminent pressure to go to market. One source noted that Prada has the paperwork done and is ready for an IPO, but it’s just a matter of Bertelli’s personal whims and fears about running a public company.

Prada officials declined to comment for this article.

Although observers in the financial and fashion worlds may have grown weary of Prada’s on-again, off-again IPO flirtation dance — which has gone on almost to the point of farce — some observers said they don’t think this fourth postponement has seriously eroded the company’s credibility with the market.

“The market is opportunistic. If Prada comes up with a good offer, the market is going to listen,” said Chiara Tirloni, a Milan-based analyst with UBS Warburg.

Others weren’t so confident. According to Gilbert Harrison, chairman of investment bank Financo Inc., the delay could be a cause for concern. “It raises a red flag. If market conditions are not favorable, then it makes sense to delay an IPO. But because the luxury market is so hot at the present time, one wonders if there’s a problem or inconsistency in its earnings. If that’s the case, then you want to know how the company will correct it.”

As for Sander and Lang, it’s been five years since Prada proudly snatched up the two labels in a bid to become a multibrand powerhouse. Prada promised to expand both companies and leverage their ultracool, niche appeal with new stores and product lines. But it hasn’t been an easy path. Almost immediately, Prada found itself wrestling with designers’ personalities — Sander quit the company that bears her name twice in four years, most recently a few weeks ago. Although Lang has stayed on board, many fashion insiders say the business isn’t going well and the sales figures don’t contradict that theory. Analysts agree that both businesses are potential liabilities with regard to a future IPO since their losses weigh on Prada’s valuation.

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