By Luisa Zargani
with contributions from Sandra Salibian
 on December 10, 2020
Jil Sander Pre-Fall 2021

MILAN — Italian entrepreneurs appear to be on the acquisition trail — pandemic be darned.

Following Moncler’s takeover of Stone Island spearheaded by chairman and chief executive officer Remo Ruffini, and the Agnelli family’s holding Exor taking a majority stake in Shiang Xia this week, speculation is mounting in Milan that Renzo Rosso, founder of OTB, is eyeing Jil Sander.

While not confirming a specific target, in a statement sent to WWD, OTB said “it is true that we are evaluating different opportunities and companies currently on the market. We want to increase our critical mass and we want to do it in a modern and sustainable way, firstly supporting and strengthening the pipeline, and in general the Made in Italy, as we did all throughout this pandemic, consistently with the strategic vision of the group and of our entrepreneur,” referring to Rosso.

Jil Sander is controlled by Onward Holdings Co. Ltd., the Tokyo-listed apparel group, which bought the brand in 2008 from London-based private equity company Change Capital Partners for 167 million euros. A representative for Onward Holdings was not reachable at press time.

According to a Milan-based source, Onward Holdings has tapped Nomura as adviser and OTB is said to be in exclusive talks with the Japanese group. Nomura did not respond to a request for comment.

It is no secret that OTB has been looking at expanding its portfolio of brands, which includes Diesel, Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor & Rolf and a minority stake in Amiri, as well as production arms Staff International and Brave Kids.

Last year, OTB was back in the black, closing 2019 on an upward trajectory reporting growth at all its brands, with sales gaining 6.4 percent to 1.53 billion euros, and an improved net financial position that reached 124 million euros, excluding any IFRS16 effect. Commenting on 2019 results, OTB ceo Ubaldo Minelli at the time did not rule out additional acquisitions, saying he would “evaluate market opportunities if they are in line with the strategic vision of the group.”

To be sure, last year OTB raised its stake in the Viktor & Rolf brand to 70 percent and was eyeing an investment in the Roberto Cavalli company. Staff International, under the OTB umbrella, is Just Cavalli’s licensee, and its parent company presented an expression of interest with a recapitalization of 164 million euros, according to a court filing to request a restructuring plan with creditors presented at the time by Cavalli. The brand was eventually sold to the founder and chairman of Dubai-based Damac Properties, Hussain Sajwani.

Jil Sander is now designed by Luke and Lucie Meier, who took over the company’s creative direction in 2017 after Rodolfo Paglialunga’s three-year stint. The Meiers have been developing a clear, focused vision for the brand by reworking its signature minimalism with a poetic, warm and very personal attitude, mainly conveyed through artisanal details and unique materials.

Jil Sander was founded in Hamburg, Germany, in 1968 by the namesake designer, who rose to fame in the Eighties and Nineties with her tailored basics crafted from luxurious fabrics, selling her company to the Prada Group in 1999. Sander herself left the brand six months later after clashes with Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli, only to be lured back again in May 2003 — then to leave again in November 2004, and return in 2012, eventually leaving for good in 2013.

She was succeeded by Milan Vukmirovic, who did sporty disco flash until Sander returned in May 2003. After her second departure, the brand’s creative reins were handed over to its longstanding design team. Prada then tapped Raf Simons as Sander’s new creative director in 2005. He exited in 2012.

Prada sold the company to Change Capital Partners in 2006.