By  on February 20, 2008

BERLIN — Wolfgang Ley, founder and ex-chief executive officer of Escada, is getting back into fashion action. He's taken a stake in the Munich ready-to-wear company Stiff and is also helping the Italian cashmere specialist Lanificio Colombo develop a complete men's and women's apparel line.

Ley would not disclose financial details of either arrangement.

Stiff, known for its tailored jackets, also served as a contractor for Escada. Ley said the company's name would change, but its management will remain in place.

"I'm a silent investor and will be helping with the company's structure, finances, design and distribution," he explained. "Stiff didn't have the money to build the [jackets] range into a full-scale collection, and I will be using my know-how, experience and contacts to provide the company with the right people."

One of them is designer Thomas Rath, who was most recently chief designer of Riani and who previously worked for Windsor and Jil Sander. The first collection under Rath's direction will be shown this coming June for what Ley called "very strict distribution" to wholesale accounts in Europe, including Eastern Europe, and Asia.

Ley considers Colombo, however, to be his "main job. Director Roberto Colombo contacted me to see if I would be interested in helping them build a structure and platform for a high-end men's and women's wear collection. I spoke to the Escada investors and they said sure," he told WWD. "This will be a small, high-end luxury collection and not in competition with Escada."

Ley said he was offered a small share in the company, but this has yet to be decided. "I'm not looking to buy a company, but it's generally good to have a little share. But they came to me. I'm not looking for a job," he emphasized. "And I don't want to sit on boards. But this is about taking the most beautiful materials and turning them into an irresistible product. I will build a distribution platform for rtw, which will take about three years. And if it's successful, I will then hand it back over to the company."

Ley has opened a 4,000-square-foot Colombo showroom in Dornach, not far from Escada headquarters, outside of Munich. The Colombo collection, which is designed by Ron van der Kamp, can also be seen in the company's showroom in Milan.

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