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Chasing New Labels: Jones Said Preparing To Snap Up Kasper

After giving up on Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones Apparel Group appears to have its eye on buying Kasper ASL and its Anne Klein and Kasper brands.

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NEW YORK — After walking away from Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones Apparel Group appears to have its eye on buying Anne Klein.

Sources said Jones’ interest in the Anne Klein franchise has heated up this week and the company might soon up the bidding in the pursuit of the label’s parent company, Kasper ASL, which has been exploring various strategic options as part of its plan to emerge from bankruptcy protection in the coming weeks.

Kellwood Co. was believed to be the leading contender for Kasper, but with its launch of an Izod women’s collection this week through a license with Phillips-Van Heusen and what could be a another deal to license Calvin Klein’s CK women’s collection from PVH any day, a concurrent deal for Kasper might be out of Kellwood’s reach.

So many trophy brands are looking for deals right now — a Kasper sale, a CK license, reports of talks between Oscar de la Renta and J.C. Penney, plus interest in better collections for Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors — that the usual suspects for such transactions have their hands full sorting out the most lucrative moves. Kellwood, Jones, Liz Claiborne Inc. and the relatively new dealers, Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou, have cropped up with interest in nearly every case as the designer industry makes a big play for perceived opportunities in the better and moderate markets.

Jones’ decision this month to sue Polo Ralph Lauren, which then countersued, has suddenly opened up about $548 million worth of business that virtually every player is after, including Jones with its own lifestyle brand, the Lauren by Ralph Lauren line being developed in-house by Polo and the upcoming incarnation of CK.

Yet another brand with momentum in the better market is AK Anne Klein, the lower-priced counterpart to the bridge line, Anne Klein, and which already has a significant presence in department stores.

The financial crisis that forced its parent firm, Kasper, into a prepackaged bankruptcy in February 2002 has turned into what some buyers consider a golden opportunity now that its financials have turned around. In its most recent quarterly report in May, Kasper posted a first-quarter profit of $8 million on sales of $104.9 million, including $4.4 million in licensing revenues.
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