By  on December 27, 2005

NEW YORK — Tommy Hilfiger got an early Christmas present — to the tune of $80 million.

"I'm so excited. It was a long process to figure out what to do," said a relieved Hilfiger Friday, the morning after his company agreed to be sold to Apax Partners, a global private equity firm, for $1.6 billion, or $16.80 per share in cash.

Hilfiger's take is $80 million because he owns 5 percent of Tommy Hilfiger Corp., the $1.8 billion women's, men's and children's diversified apparel firm.

Hilfiger said he signed a new lifetime contract with Apax and will stay on as a principal designer and chairman of the Strategy and Design Board. He said the new contract is "similar" to the one he had previously, under which he was paid between $14 million and $18 million a year. He also noted he will be an equity owner of the new business.

As part of the deal, David F. Dyer, chief executive officer of Hilfiger, will leave the firm after the deal closes, and Fred Gehring, ceo of Tommy Hilfiger Europe, will assume the leadership of the entire company.

"I think it's a good deal for shareholders," said Hilfiger. "I never wanted to put a number on it, because I didn't want to have expectations to move us either way."

John Megrue, co-ceo of Apax Partners, said that after a bidding process of several months, "We're excited to be the winner." He said he believes they reached a fair price and "shareholders got a fair deal."

Megrue added, "It's such a great brand; we've had tremendous experience in this sector." Among Apax Partners' retail and consumer investments are Phillips-Van Heusen, Tommy Bahama, Spyder Active Sports, The Children's Place and Charlotte Russe. In December 2002, Apax made a $250 million equity investment and provided a loan of $125 million to PVH in connection with the Calvin Klein acquisition. Apax owns 38 percent of PVH.

"It's clearly a business that can continue to grow globally," continued Megrue. "The U.S. wholesale business we can turn around. It's a matter of the management team, and Tommy and Fred [Gehring]."

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