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W2W: What to Watch – Kasper’s Next Chapter

One of Seventh Avenue’s most storied companies will take yet another turn next year, as Kasper ASL’s board and creditors ponder a possible sale or "strategic alternatives" under the guidance of investment firm Peter J....

One of Seventh Avenue’s most storied companies will take yet another turn next year, as Kasper ASL’s board and creditors ponder a possible sale or “strategic alternatives” under the guidance of investment firm Peter J. Solomon.

Solomon was brought in last week to explore Kasper’s fate, including a possible sale that could exceed the $100 million offer made by a group of senior management execs earlier in the month, led by chief executive John D. Idol. The firm could also choose to exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under a reorganization plan that would pay off creditors with new stock issued as the Anne Klein Group.

A day prior to a Dec. 5 court hearing on whether the plan would be accepted by creditors, Idol announced he’d offer $88 million for the company, partnering with a group of upper management and Parthenon Capital to supply the cash. Some speculated the offer was a strategy to raise interest in the company in hopes of attaining a higher bid from a third party. But Idol said he’s truly interested in purchasing the company and upped his bid to $100 million as a result.

The Solomon firm recently advised Lands’ End on its sale to Sears for $1.9 billion and could now broker a more lucrative deal to the likes of Liz Claiborne Inc., Jones Apparel Group, VF Corp. or Kellwood Co. Kasper’s powerhouse suit franchise and its well-known Anne Klein sportswear brand, as well as lines such as Le Suit and Albert Nipon could garner much interest for their strong positions in department stores.

Kasper ASL was formed as a public company in 1997 when it was spun off from Leslie Fay Co. after it emerged from five years in Chapter 11. In 1999, Kasper bought Anne Klein for about $75 million, but the more than $110 million debt incurred by the transaction eventually forced a change at the top, as founder and ceo Arthur S. Levine left and Idol was brought in after a turnaround at Donna Karan International.

The company has had four consecutive profitable quarters and in the three months ended Sept. 28, Kasper earned $10 million against a $25.3 million loss in the year-ago period. Kasper generated $383.9 million in sales last year.

Meanwhile, Levine, whose initials remain on the Kasper brand, has formed a joint venture with Elie Tahari called Arthur S. Levine for Tahari. Executives said that line, which competes in the better-priced suit arena with Kasper, is on target to ring up sales of $100 million in the first year and could surpass $150 million in 2003.