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MILAN — Patrizio Bertelli is giving it another try. No, it’s not the stock market, it’s the America’s Cup yacht race.

This story first appeared in the September 6, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Although his goal is to win, the Prada chief executive officer believes he is “starting from scratch” with his second shot at the the prestigious international yacht race. “We can’t mull over what we did two years ago, and we won’t know how Luna Rossa will perform until the first regatta,” said Bertelli in an exclusive interview.

After winning the Louis Vuitton Cup in February 2000 with his sailboat Luna Rossa, the Prada Challenge Team lost the America’s Cup to Team New Zealand the following month. The Louis Vuitton Cup is the qualifying race for the America’s Cup, held every three years.

Not discouraged by the defeat, Bertelli and his team immediately started working on the two boats to compete in the America’s Cup in 2003. “It takes years to study, design and improve the boats, which are actually built in the last six months before the race to achieve the best possible technology,” said Bertelli. The new Luna Rossa, ITA 74, was unveiled last May. A second one, ITA 80, was flown to New Zealand last month.

“Bertelli is a fighter and is even more excited than last time: even though he came home with the Louis Vuitton Cup, he wants to win the America’s Cup,” said sailing expert Cino Ricci, who skippered the Italian Azzurra in the 1983 competition, in a phone interview.

Although Ricci said the Luna Rossa team is more technically prepared today, he echoed Bertelli, saying “nothing should be taken for granted.”

“The Cup’s organization changed the rules [with fewer matches to compete in per team], so the selection is much stricter this time,” said Ricci.

Ricci, however, said Luna Rossa is one of the favored boats together with Alinghi, owned by pharmaceutical tycoon Ernesto Bertarelli, and Oracle, owned by American Larry Ellison.

“We have the know-how and more precise ideas about the race,” said Bertelli, “but we feel we must perform better than last time, when nobody expected anything from our team: we must at least reach the finals.” Bertelli actually did not show any strain or tension, just back after a month in New Zealand, where he vacationed with his family.

The America’s Cup is not the only challenging project coming up for Bertelli, who in July put on hold the listing of Prada Holding for the third time, at least until next year. Bertelli reiterated that the initial public offering will have to wait until a more favorable moment, but expressed satisfaction with the financial results for the first six months of the year, which are to be released today.

“We are doing well,” the Prada ceo said. “I am very pleased.”

Although Bertelli did not supply any figures, which need to be approved by the company’s board, an industry source said Prada will report sales of around $800 million for the first half of 2002. This figure is in line with the same period last year, but indicates that sales picked up after declining about 7 percent in the second half of 2001 to around $760 million.

On the retail front, a new Prada store will open next spring in Milan’s Via Sant’Andrea, where the Saint Andrews restaurant, favored by many fashion designers, used to be. The Prada store on Via Spiga will close and Bertelli said he did not “know yet what he will do with the space.” Meanwhile, a Helmut Lang store will open in January in Milan’s fashion triangle.

Prada and Church stores will also open in Saint Moritz, Switzerland, in December, and a Prada store will open on Rodeo Drive this fall.

In particular, Bertelli downplayed the $13.4 million loss recorded by Jil Sander in the first half of the year, as reported in WWD Tuesday. “We invested so much in that company, buying back franchisees in the U.S., Hong Kong and Japan,” said Bertelli. At the same time, Bertelli said he was “pleased to see the press is starting to judge the line more serenely, without prejudices,” referring to the abrupt departure of the designer a few months after Prada bought the German house in 1999, followed by a series of lukewarm reviews by fashion editors. Sander is now designed by Milan Vukmirovic. A Jil Sander flagship will open on East 57th Street in New York today.

Bertelli also said he was encouraged by the group’s business in the U.S., which he said accounts for consolidated sales of about $450 million. He noted that one of the company’s main accounts [which prefers not to be named] ordered 71,500 pairs of shoes from the Prada and Miu Miu pre-collection for spring 2003. Bertelli said Prada and Miu Miu sales in the U.S. rose 15 percent in company-owned stores since January and more than 20 percent through independent American stores.

Bertelli does not expect any specific commercial result from the America’s Cup, given the fact that there is no Luna Rossa clothing collection, but he does not deny the exposure the race gives his company. An avid sailor since the Seventies, Bertelli has perpetually maintained the America’s Cup is not a publicity stunt.

“I believe the general public perceives that this is not a marketing operation. I love sailing and Luna Rossa was created to compete,” Bertelli says simply. “Our Prada Sport line was launched in 1997, six months before we started the America’s Cup adventure, and we have never sold any product with the Luna Rossa label.”

Bertelli added that the technology behind the Prada Sport line and the Luna Rossa uniforms fuel each other. “However, I don’t want to create any confusion between our clothing lines and the America’s Cup, and, frankly, I don’t think Prada needs it — it’s a solid line in itself,” he said. The red and gray Luna Rossa uniforms have not changed since the competition two years ago.

The first America’s Cup sailing race is scheduled for Oct. 1, when each of the nine teams enrolled will compete against each other once. This time, there will be another Italian sailing boat, Mascalzone Latino, sponsored by Vincenzo Onorato, who owns one of the country’s main ferryboat companies, and a first-time challenger. Bertelli did not wave off his competitor. “We didn’t have any experience either — you can never tell until the boats set sail,” said Bertelli.

Bertelli will leave for New Zealand on Sept. 27, the day the Prada spring show is scheduled. “I’ll be in touch, there are phones, the Internet, and so on,” said Bertelli not surprisingly, given the fact he is known in the industry for being a hands-on micromanager.

Bertelli will be away for about two weeks, and then return to Auckland at the end of November for another two weeks. The finals of the race will be held in mid-January, and the final match is scheduled for the end of February.

Bertelli reconfirmed most of the sailing and design teams who raced two years ago, and counts 33 sailors. In particular, Bertelli once more tapped Francesco de Angelis as skipper, and Doug Peterson as design director. Both won the Louis Vuitton Cup with Luna Rossa three years ago.

Sailing for Bertelli is a “way of feeling close to nature. I love the sea, the mountains and the desert,” he said.

While he will not actually be aboard the Luna Rossa, Bertelli, known for his tireless daily support of the team, plans once more to follow the yacht on the rubber dinghy that is allowed close to it during the races. Bertelli’s passion for the mountains and skiing has also prompted him to sponsor a number of prestigious ski schools in Europe, providing uniforms for the teachers and testing materials with them.

In Bertelli’s case, it is a costly way to get close to nature. After shelling out more than $50 million in his first America’s Cup race, Bertelli said the investment this time will reach about $90 million. Of this figure, Prada Holding invested $38.3 million. The rest was supplied by Maestrale Holding SrL. This year, Bertelli sold the organization that manages the Luna Rossa boats to Maestrale Holding SrL, which is wholly owned by the Prada family, in an effort to streamline his business in preparation for the IPO.

Does Bertelli see many America’s Cups in the future for Luna Rossa? “I don’t know,” he said, “it’s a challenge we live day by day.”