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OTB Buys Jil Sander as Fashion M&A Heats Up

The owner of Diesel and Margiela is acquiring the label from Japanese group Onward. Designers Luke and Lucie Meier are set to remain in place.
Jil Sander's Spring campaign shot by Nigel Shafran. Courtesy.
Jil Sander's Spring campaign shot by Nigel Shafran. Courtesy.

Italian fashion group OTB said Friday it will acquire Jil Sander from Japanese conglomerate Onward Holdings for an undisclosed sum, part of wider growth ambitions as the Diesel-owner seeks to bolster its luxury portfolio.

Luke and Lucie Meier, the creative-director duo who have designed Jil Sander since 2017, will remain in place following the deal, OTB’s president and controlling shareholder Renzo Rosso said.

The deal-making is part of a wider strategy to diversify OTB’s holdings and expand the group’s presence in high-end apparel, as its core brand Diesel struggles to regain momentum. In addition to owning the luxury labels Marni and Margiela and a licensing deal to produce Dsquared2, the group recently acquired a minority stake in LA-based Amiri.

“The strategy of the group is to grow, both with the brands we have and with new opportunities,” Rosso said in an interview.

The group already has other potential deals in the pipeline, and is continuing to keep an eye out for brands that would benefit from OTB’s resources in production, distribution, and marketing, he said.

Adding Jil Sander bolsters OTB’s stable with a well-respected designer name, though its business has foundered in recent years.

Jil Sander brought in revenue of ¥10.0 billion ($92 million) in the 12-months ending February 2020, according to Onward’s filings. That’s much lower than annual sales of around $150 million when the company acquired the brand in 2008, though sales had enjoyed a significant bump the previous year following the arrival of the Meiers at its creative helm.

The brand was started in Germany in 1968 and became famous for its rigorous, minimal approach to ready-to-wear fashion. But the company has struggled to find stability since its eponymous founder left the company in 2004, running through multiple managers and design leads.

Previous owners included Prada Group SpA and private equity fund Change Capital Partners LLC, while designers included Raf Simons, whose critically-acclaimed turn at the brand helped secure his position as a fashion star.

OTB has had its eye on the brand for several months, confirming reports it was looking at an acquisition in January. Despite the upheaval the brand experienced in recent decades, Rosso was drawn to the way it had stayed true to its signature minimalism, as well as the current creative thrust.

“Luke and Lucie are doing a very good job,” he said, “Where we will be more focused now is on the organisation, looking area by area at where we should invest.”

The push to diversify OTB is taking place in parallel efforts to reposition its core asset Diesel, which brought on Y-Project’s designer Glenn Martens as creative director in October — the jeans-maker’s latest bid to regain relevance. OTB’s sales fell 14 percent to €1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2020 as its denim business took a hit from collapsing foot traffic in department stores and malls.

Maison Margiela was a notable bright spot, however, with sales rising 20 percent under creative director John Galliano, despite the departure of the brand’s chief executive Riccardo Bellini.

The deal comes amid a broader reshuffling in the industry spurred in part by instability caused by the pandemic. In the designer segment, New Guards Group co-founder Claudio Antonioli acquired the Ann Demeulemeester label, while blockbuster unions have included VF Corp’s $2.1 acquisition of Supreme and Moncler’s $1.4 billion deal to buy Stone Island.

The fact that several recent deals feature Italian acquirers is notable following decades in which the country’s brands regularly sold to foreign owners, including French luxury conglomerates and private equity funds.

Related Articles:

The Remaking of Jil Sander

Diesel Names Y/Project’s Glenn Martens as Creative Director

Pandemic Hits OTB Group Sales, But Maison Margiela Defies Crisis

The Future of Maison Margiela

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