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Designer Fall Outlook: Brighter Skies Ahead And More Deals, Too

As firms look again to acquisitions as a means of survival, new power bases are established in a matter of weeks - and there’s more action on tap.

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As for the acquisitions game, even on the heels of this week’s $585.6 million sale of Nautica Enterprises to VF Corp., there’s still plenty of news to come on the Kasper A.S.L. front and possibly Tommy Hilfiger, which remains on the hunt for purchases.

Any such development would further shift the futures of some of the most potent brands in American fashion. Then again, at this rate, there may not be many brands left to acquire, following the recent sales of Michael Kors LLC to the financial duo of Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou in January, PVH’s buy of CKI in February, Oxford Industries’ acquisition of Tommy Bahama and Liz Claiborne’s deals for Juicy Couture and Ellen Tracy.

On the American front, that leaves few remaining independent brands — like Jill Stuart, Cynthia Rowley, Vivienne Tam or Catherine Malandrino — and one ultimately elusive trophy brand, Oscar de la Renta, who has refused to budge on the subject.

Despite what appears to be an industry wracked with sudden instability, fashion executives point to the expectation of calmer times in the outside world that will ultimately lead to a recovery for luxury apparel.

“In some cases, we see retail spending improving as negative headlines fade and travel increases, but people are spending in a different way than they once did,” said Tom Murry, president and chief operating officer of CKI. “They are buying special items and replacement pieces if they are great looking and feel new.”

At least there is a feeling that the market has hit its bottom and the machinations of so many deals are laying the groundwork for designer and bridge companies to make a comeback.

“After a downturn, there is always opportunity,” said Gordon Finkelstein, president of Tocca. “A stable global environment is going to be vital for us, as we’re starting to see an uptick for fall. We’re seeing improvements in international markets, and as people are traveling more, even domestically, the strength of foreign currencies is playing a greater role for us today.”

Despite industry-wide concerns that retailers are pushing price breaks to dangerously early points on the calendar, Calvin Klein’s Murry added that “stores that are doing well are not in a hurry to break price.”
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