Prada goes to stock market as it revamps internationally

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ROME--Italian design house Prada, bestknown for its bowling-style bags, triangularlogo and uniform style, says it may sell a30% stake in the company early next year aspart of a broader effort to give its upscaleimage a facelift.

Italy's best known fashion brands, such asArmani and Versace, generally have avoidedlisting on Milan's stock exchange for fear oflosing control of operations, and to avoidthe financial disclosure requirements of public companies.

But with stocks in design houses in fashion with investors, the company saw an opportunity to raise capital while keepingcontrol safely in the hands of ownersMiuccia Prada, the granddaughter of founder Mario Prada, and her husband, PatrizioBertelli.

Financial analysts say the company willlikely use the money to pay down and estimated $250 million in debt incurred fromacquisitions in 1999 and earlier this year,to pay for expansion plans and perhaps tofund further acquisitions.

The 87-year-old company, which is basedin Milan, hired world-renowned architectsto redesign its regional headquarters inTokyo and to create stylish new stores inNew York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.It's also planning to redesign its storesthroughout Italy and in other parts of Europe with what one local newspaper called"the look of the 21st century."

There are no plans to change its advertising, which is developed in-house. Mostof Prada's ads appear in print or outdoorand are simple, with a stylish model sporting a Prada accessory, with the company'sname and logo below.

If the listing goes off as planned,Prada will become the second Italian design house in a matter of months to takethe relatively unusual road of listingshares. Earlier in November, Tod's, themaker of famous pebble-soled loafers, completed a $260 million initial public offering.

But Prada is much larger than Tod's.Prada's sales last year were worth $945million. Profits were $145 million, upnearly 240% compared with 1998.

Copyright November 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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