Renzo Rosso on Buying Jil Sander

MILAN — “I’ve been dreaming of Jil Sander for years,” admitted Renzo Rosso, founder and president of OTB, which on Friday said it was buying 100 percent of the fashion brand.

The acquisition points to the strength and ambition of the Italian fashion group, and a brisk M&A scene in Italy, following Moncler’s takeover of Stone Island, spearheaded by chairman and chief executive officer Remo Ruffini; the Agnelli family’s holding Exor acquiring a majority stake in Shang Xia; Style Capital taking over Zimmermann; GCDS selling a majority stake to the Made in Italy Fund, and Italian retailer Claudio Antonioli buying Ann Demeulemeester.

Jil Sander has been owned by the Japanese multibrand fashion conglomerate Onward Holdings Co. Ltd. since 2008 and Rosso said the negotiations kicked off in October, admitting they had been “complex,” given the current situation and the nine-hour time difference with Japan, praising his team for carrying it out successfully. Onward Holdings was advised by Nomura.

WWD first reported OTB was eyeing Jil Sander in December.

Asked about the amount paid for the company, Rosso said he could not reveal it under a confidentiality agreement and because Onward is publicly listed in Tokyo. But he underscored it was “a significant amount in line with the value of the brand.”

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Rosso expressed his long-held admiration for the designer Jil Sander, who founded her namesake brand in 1968, as well as for Raf Simons’ designs for the label, and enthused about Lucie and Luke Meier, who have been its creative directors since 2017.

“I met them and I am super in love, I don’t have a job in that sense. The creative direction is of a superior level and the product is beautiful,” Rosso said. “They are two wonderful people, and they have brought modernity and freshness to the brand, while also preserving it, with very precious and refined materials.”

Despite the changes in ownership and creative direction over the years, “the house has always stayed true to its founder’s vision, maintaining an absolute commitment to beauty, quality, and its signature minimalist approach,” Rosso continued.

The Meiers’ designs have translated into a strong business, as Rosso revealed the brand registered growth in sales last year compared with 2019, despite the pandemic. According to an Onward filing in Tokyo, reported by Reuters, Jil Sander recorded a loss of 17.8 million euros in the year through February 2020.

The Meiers, a husband-and-wife team, succeeded Rodolfo Paglialunga’s three-year stint. They have been reworking Jil Sander’s signature minimalism with a poetic, warm and very personal attitude, mainly conveyed through artisanal details and unique materials, appreciated by retailers.

As per the most recent results available, in the financial year ended Feb. 28, 2019, Jil Sander revenues totaled 11.3 billion yen, or $104 million at current exchange rates. The apparel group Onward Holdings closed the year with sales of 240.6 billion yen, or about $2.22 billion. Onward Holdings was founded in 1927 and also owns Kashiyama and Joseph.

“Jil Sander is a beautiful sibling, a timeless jewel that will join the other OTB unique and unconventional labels in a long-term undertaking,” Rosso observed. “They fit with one another in terms of values and lifestyle since they were never bought at random.”

OTB is the parent company of Diesel, Maison Margiela, Marni, and Viktor & Rolf, as well as production arms Staff International and Brave Kid, and it has a minority stake in Amiri.

OTB brings its expertise to Jil Sander, Rosso said, eyeing an increased focus on merchandising and on technology. In particular, the goal is to digitalize the company. Rosso also plans to further develop its management structure, which is currently helmed by CEO Axel Keller, who joined in 2018 from Balenciaga.

The brand relies on a network of 46 stores and Rosso believes that channel can be expanded “to give Jil Sander the visibility it deserves.”

In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, as reported, OTB’s consolidated sales amounted to 1.31 billion euros, a 14.3 percent decrease, dented by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 1.53 billion euros in 2019, the year the company was back in the black.

OTB had been looking at expanding its portfolio of brands, raising its stake in the Viktor & Rolf brand to 70 percent and in 2019 it was eyeing an investment in the Roberto Cavalli company. The latter brand was eventually sold to the founder and chairman of Dubai-based Damac Properties, Hussain Sajwani.

Rosso touted the organization of the group and its “amazing integrated pipeline.” He was also proud of the support given to the artisans through the C.A.S.H. program, which stands for Credito Agevolato [facilitated credit] Suppliers Help and was launched in 2013.

The program aims to support small and medium-size enterprises and safeguard the Made in Italy product supply chain by facilitating access to credit for the best suppliers all along the supply chain. In the past six years, the total value of the operations within the program amounted to 210 million euros, and after an extension last year, OTB expected to offer an additional 70 million euros in credit.

Through the acquisition, Rosso expects to create new jobs. “It will be good for Made in Italy, we should get a medal,” he said with a laugh.

Rosso has been very involved with the Camera della Moda, which is preparing a number of documents to present the Italian government requesting funds of up to 3 billion euros, as reported, to restart the fashion industry, impacted by the pandemic.

Rosso is part of the strategic committee of the Camera della Moda with the likes of Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of the Prada Group, and Gildo Zegna, CEO of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, among others, who met with Carlo Bonomi, president of Confindustria, the association that comprises 64,300 companies in the fashion sector, and other leaders of the industry and members of the government.

“We are showing how important the sector is for Italy, and bringing the attention of the government to this sector and to the kind of investments that are needed,” Rosso said.

Jil Sander, the designer, rose to fame in the 1980s and ’90s with her tailored basics crafted from luxurious fabrics, selling her company to the Prada Group in 1999. Sander herself left the brand six months later after clashes with Bertelli, only to be lured back again in May 2003 — then to leave again in November 2004, and return in 2012, eventually leaving for good in 2013.

She was succeeded by Milan Vukmirovic, who did sporty disco flash until Sander returned in May 2003. After her second departure, the brand’s creative reins were handed over to its longstanding design team. Prada then tapped Raf Simons as Sander’s new creative director in 2005. He exited in 2012.

Prada sold the company to Change Capital Partners in 2006 for an undisclosed sum.

Onward Holdings bought the brand in 2008 from London-based private equity company Change Capital Partners for 167 million euros.

In December, Onward Holdings sold its European subsidiary Onward Luxury Group, which was seen as signaling a potential change of strategy for the group.

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