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In Brief: Versaces Get Their Hollywood Star…New Year Brings New Acquisitions

Donatella Versace feels completely at ease walking down the runway for her post-show applause. It"s receiving awards that makes her nervous.

MILAN – Donatella Versace feels completely at ease walking down the runway for her post-show applause. It”s receiving awards that makes her nervous.

That explains the mix of fear and excitement Versace says will accompany her on Thursday when she will receive the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style award and accept one for her late brother, Gianni Versace. The recognition for their contributions to fashion and entertainment comes almost a decade after Gianni Versace was murdered outside his villa in Miami, in July 1997.

“It”s a great honor for me to receive this prize, especially because I”m getting it in Hollywood, which is my favorite place in the world,”Versace said. “I miss Gianni very much. He deserves this award and I only wish he could have received it in person.”

“The house of Versace has an inspired legacy of being an influencer of culture in all its forms, for more than two decades,”Peri Ellen Berne, chairman of the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style, said in a statement. “The Versace brand is synonymous with cutting-edge, trendsetting style, glamour and sensuality that has earned them an iconic place in fashion history.”

Certainly, Gianni Versace, who founded the company in 1978, established a significant connection with the movie industry during his lifetime and was a pioneer in exploiting the allure of the red carpet, both as a media tool and as a cash machine.

“Gianni used to joke about how the only dust he wanted to stick was stardust,”smiled a slinky Donatella Versace in head-to-toe black, during an interview at the house’s Via Gesa palazzo.

Stick it did, and she certainly wasn’t going to wipe it away. Once she took the creative reins of the fashion house, Donatella Versace carried on where Gianni  Versace left off, which is demonstrated by her knockout evening gowns that are Oscar-night favorites.

“Hollywood, especially young Hollywood, is so influential and inspirational because on the red carpet these actresses are so well put together; their hairstyle, earrings and makeup all make for a perfect image,”she explained.

The celebrity factor was a tried-and-true formula for both siblings, but Versace admitted that from other perspectives she had to adjust her focus.

“A budget? Gianni had no idea what it was,”she said with a deep chuckle. “Times were so different. We’re talking of the booming Eighties and everything was easy and doable. I remember Gianni would order stacks of clothes five days before the show and we had fun mixing and matching. Today, everything is so much more calculated.”

New Year Brings New Breed of Acquisitions

The apparel industry can expect another busy year of mergers and acquisitions.

Following a record buying spree in 2006, industry experts expect even more activity this year, not only from the usual suspects – the giant vendors and private equity firms – but also from midsize, mid-market firms looking for a way to compete in a consolidated world.

Last year was the apparel world”s busiest M&A year in more than a decade. The total disclosed value of deals in the industry in the U.S. and abroad more than doubled from 2005. There were 67 deals in 2006, up from 46 the year before, and their value skyrocketed 218 percent, to $4.26 billion from $1.34 billion, according to Factset Mergerstat, a leading provider of U.S. and international M&A information to the investment banking and corporate markets.

Among the acquisitions:

-Liz Claiborne Inc. bought Kate Spade for $124 million from Neiman Marcus.

-Kellwood Co. made smaller niche buys with Vince and Hollywould.

-Jones Apparel Group didn”t make any deals; it did attempt to sell itself, but dropped the idea when it failed to generate high enough bids.

-In September Sara Lee spun off Hanesbrands Inc. as a separate publicly traded entity, creating one of the largest apparel companies in the world with sales of $4.5 billion.

So far this year, VF Corp. sold its $350 million intimate apparel division to Fruit of the Loom and is completing its late 2006 deal to buy Eagle Creek, an adventure travel brand.

“Acquisition of growing global lifestyle brands continues to be an important part of VF”s growth plan,”a VF spokeswoman said in a statement. “While we will continue to be disciplined in our approach, both strategically and financially, we will continue to add lifestyle brands to our portfolio through acquisitions. We have said that we generally are not constrained in terms of acquisition size – we will consider smaller acquisitions and larger acquisitions, although there are fewer of the latter that would meet our strategic and financial criteria. We will look at lifestyle brands that fit VF”s Outdoor and Sportswear coalitions, in particular, although we will consider acquisitions for our other coalitions, as well.”