By and  on March 20, 2006

MILAN — Helmut Lang's new owner, Tokyo-based Link Theory Holdings Co. Ltd., has ambitious plans to revive the label on the contemporary level and is in the hunt for a designer to help make that happen.

On Friday, Prada Group agreed to sell the Helmut Lang brand to the Japanese company, which also owns the Theory business in Japan and in the U.S.

As for a designer, the company issued a warm appeal to the namesake Austrian who left his company last year, but it's seen as a long shot for Lang to rejoin the label at this point. Nevertheless, its new owner seems favorably disposed to some kind of relationship. "[He's] always welcome if Mr. Lang is interested in working with us," Hidetsugu Onishi, Link Theory's chief financial officer told WWD. "We hope that we can have a good relationship with him in the future."

Onishi stressed that the company hasn't decided on a designer yet, but he dropped a few clues. He said Link Theory prefers "younger talents" but declined to comment on a recent report that Alexandre Plokhov, designer of men's wear line Cloak, was headed to the label. He also declined to say whether the company has been in contact with Helmut Lang himself.

Lang declined to comment on the sale of the company.

Neither Link Theory nor Prada is releasing a transaction price. Prada shuttered Helmut Lang in the wake of Lang's departure last year. Link Theory is buying just the trademark name. One industry insider estimated that Link Theory paid no more than 30 million euros, or $36.3 million, for the brand.

The announcement confirms WWD's report that Prada was nearing a sale to a Japanese company.

"We like that the brand is kind of clean without any negative assets," said Onishi, whose company has been in contact with Prada for the last six months. He envisions the new Helmut Lang brand as a contemporary label, like Theory, rather than a luxury one. He declined to give a sales forecast.

Andrew Rosen, president of New York-based Theory, said he will run the Helmut Lang business initially and assemble a team and structure to position it for future growth. Helmut Lang will continue to be based in New York, though not in the brand's original SoHo headquarters. Theory plans to move to new headquarters in the Meatpacking District before the end of this year, but Rosen said the Lang business will be located elsewhere. "Lang is a totally separate strategy from Theory, and it will have its own organization and identity," Rosen said.

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