WWD.com/business-news/designer-luxury/ferre-buyer-said-lined-up-3299275/

MILAN — After 19 months of government-backed bankruptcy protection, the Gianfranco Ferré brand has a new owner.

This story first appeared in the September 24, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

According to sources, Prodos Capital Management LLC, a New York-based merchant bank, in a group with Samsung, has submitted a bid that has won over the state-appointed commissioners of the brand. However, the minister of economic development, held at interim by Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, will have the final say on the sale. The Ferré show is being held here today.

“We asked bidders to commit to keeping the company’s operations in Italy, and to invest the necessary sum to relaunch the business,” said Andrea Ciccoli, one of the administrators of the brand, together with Roberto Spada and Stanislao Chimenti. “We want the brand to have continuity with long-term strategic decisions.”

Ciccoli remarked that he was pleased Gianfranco Ferré “can attract investors that believe in the business. It’s all very different now, compared to the initial proceedings when the brand in itself was the only draw. Now the offers are based on the value of a company that is functioning.” The commissioner said there are 160 employees at stake. A production plant is based in Bologna.

“Advisers Mediobanca and Sinergetica are looking for the best industrial plan, one that also takes into consideration a future for Ferré’s employees,” said one source. “This is what will tip the scale.”

Egyptian tycoon Hamed Eleish was said to be neck-and-neck in the bidding, which is estimated to total between 8 million and 10 million euros, or $10.6 million and $13.3 million at current exchange rates. However, it is understood that “several tens of millions will need to be further injected in the company to develop its business,” said a source.

In 1978, the late Gianfranco Ferré founded his namesake fashion house with Franco Mattioli, his longtime friend, adviser and business partner, until the two had a falling out in 1999. In 2000, after a bitter tug-of-war that lasted more than two years, Ferré and Mattioli sold 90 percent of the company to Gruppo Tonino Perna, the parent of Italian fashion group IT Holding. Industry sources say GTP paid between $150 million and $175 million for its stake in Gianfranco Ferré SpA. Weighed down by debt, IT Holding SpA has been in government-backed bankruptcy protection since February 2009.

Ferré, together with Malo and manufacturer Ittierre SpA, was part of IT Holding SpA.

The giant telecommunications firm Samsung, which partnered with Versace and Giorgio Armani on mobile phones and, in the case of the latter, a television set as well, also produces a women’s fashion line, which is distributed to a network of its own stores in Asia. “It’s a very profitable business, with sales of more than 2 billion euros [$2.6 billion],” said a source.