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Sander and Bertelli: Together Once Again and Ready to Grow

Jil Sander, who made amends with former sparring partner, Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli appears to have attained an almost zenlike sense of calm.

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On Thursday, Bertelli was hesitant to relive the past and explain in detail just what went wrong the first time. But he seemed optimistic that whatever was broken then is fixed now.

“There was no breakup. For certain reasons we were not able to work together,” he said. When asked to elaborate on their differences, Bertelli said he couldn’t identify them. “I was away a lot and Jil went away at the end of February. I came back in March. We saw each other. There wasn’t a period of continuity.”

Characteristically, Bertelli downplayed the squabbles of the past to focus on the future. He stressed that in fact, he and Sander share many philosophies on brand development —like the fact that neither is ready to risk cheapening the brand with a second line, jeans collection or a series of licenses.

“Now that Jil Sander has returned, we are very happy and we are sure we’ll find not only energy and the right strategy to increase sales but also, above all else, give Jil Sander that same kind of impulse Jil Sander provided with her very first show,” Bertelli said

Bertelli clearly is hoping the designer’s return will reignite the growth of the brand. Prada is aiming to trim losses so Jil Sander can breakeven on an operating level in 2004 and on a net level come 2005.

As reported, Jil Sander widened its consolidated net loss last year to $30.6 million from $12.5 million as the company opened costly flagships in London and New York. Sales in 2002 dipped to $161.6 million from $162.7 million.

Sander also seemed just as eager to get it right this time.

“We’re taking the patience and the time to learn about each other,” said the designer. “We are two strong characters and two entrepreneurs and different cultures.”

It also appears that Bertelli has given Sander more power on the decision-making front. As part of the deal, Sander gets to sit on Prada’s strategic committee flanking Bertelli, Miuccia Prada and perhaps others. She also has the option to join Jil Sander’s board at some point in the future. As for Sander’s minority stake in the business, neither Prada nor Sander would confirm its size. But Bertelli reiterated his denial of speculation that Prada hopes to sell the brand to ease its debt burden ahead of a possible initial public offering next year or the year after. As reported, there were rumors that Bertelli might try to sell Jil Sander back to the designer herself or another party such as Hugo Boss, which has also denied interest in the brand.
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