By  on February 24, 2006

MILAN — Powered by the design talent of Raf Simons and its current management team, the new owners of Jil Sander plan to launch the company into an expansion mode.

Confirming an exclusive report in WWD Thursday, Change Capital Partners said it had acquired Sander from Prada Group for an undisclosed sum. The new owners have immediate plans to open three boutiques in Japan, find a replacement unit in London and bump up Sander's U.S. business.

The London-based private equity fund, which is headed by Carrefour chairman and former Marks & Spencer chairman Luc Vandevelde, said acquiring more brands is a key facet of its future strategy.

At the same time, the deal represents the downsizing of one of the premier multibrand luxury groups assembled during the acquisition mania of the late Nineties. Prada Group is also said to be in talks to sell Helmut Lang, a money-losing business it recently shuttered.

Faced with a large amount of debt stemming from its acquisitions spree, and given its stop-and-go approach to an initial public offering, Prada Group has already sold stakes in Fendi and Church's.

On Thursday, Change Capital's managing director Steven Petrow praised Prada for restructuring efforts at Sander that should edge the brand to break even in fiscal 2006 on projected revenues of 140 million euros, or $166.6 million at current exchange.

Yet he admitted the Sander brand has long competed for management attention and resources within Prada Group — a problem it would not encounter under Change Partners.

"The turnaround is largely complete and now we're planning for growth," he said in a telephone interview. "We think significant growth is possible for this brand and it will continue to compete against the biggest names in the fashion business."

Petrow would not discuss any figures, nor comment on an estimated purchase price of 100 million euros, or $119 million. Market sources suggested the amount would likely be at a discount from what Prada paid during a heated battle for fashion brands in the 1990s.

Petrow stressed Change Capital would preserve the positioning of Sander, which is known for "super premium, very high-quality, conservative designs."

"We're gearing up for a three- to five-year investment horizon," he said.

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