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A Passion for Fashion: Cerberus Buys Rafaella, May Bid for Saks Chain

Cerberus Capital Management, a New York-based private equity firm, is set to close on an acquisition of Rafaella Sportswear at the end of the month.

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Haresh Tharani

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — Cerberus Capital Management is getting deeper into Seventh Avenue.

The private equity firm based here is due to close on its acquisition of Rafaella Sportswear at the end of the month, following its previous acquisitions of retailer Mervyn's and sports brand Fila. Cerberus also is said to be eyeing the Northern Department Store Group of Saks Inc., and at one point considered acquiring fashion house Bill Blass, according to financial sources.

A spokesman for Cerberus said, "We never discuss whether or not we are involved in a deal."

The latest actions come two months after Vanessa Castagna joined the private equity firm as a senior member of the operations team. The former second in command at J.C. Penney & Co. also is executive chairwoman of Mervyn's. While there are no firm indications the purchases of Rafaella and potentially of the Saks Inc. chain were Castagna's ideas, part of her deal with Cerberus stipulates she'll be "available" for other investment opportunities.

Cerberus is expected to close by the end of June on its leveraged recapitalization of Rafaella Sportswear Inc., a women's career and casual sportswear firm. The assets of Rafaella will be sold to Rafaella Apparel Group Inc., which will be controlled by an affiliate of Cerberus.

Terms of the Rafaella deal were not available, but Moody's Investors Service said in a May 31 credit rating report that the transaction would be financed with about $200 million in debt. The disclosure came from a report assigning a "B2" rating to Rafaella Group's proposed $160 million second-lien senior secured notes, which is expected to help fund Cerberus' buyout of Rafaella Sportswear. The notes, which will mature in 2011, will be subordinated to a $62.5 million senior revolving credit facility set to mature in 2010. Cerberus will invest $40 million in convertible redeemable preferred shares issued by Rafaella.

In the same May 31 credit report, Moody's said the new entity, Rafaella Apparel, will be 75 percent owned by Cerberus and 25 percent owned by Rafaella Sportswear. Rafaella's revenues come from the sales of women's casualwear and careerwear, mostly targeting the misses' segment. Rafaella's 10 largest customers account for 70 percent of the company's revenues, the ratings agency noted.
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