Versace's On Sale
By Janet Guyon

(FORTUNE Magazine) – On June 30, Allegra Versace Beck will turn 18--and she'll become the fashion house's biggest shareholder. Her 50% stake left to her by her uncle, Gianni Versace, is worth some $100 million, but the company says she doesn't want a job at Versace. Instead she'll go to college in the U.S. and pursue an acting career.

Meanwhile Allegra's mother, Donatella, and uncle, Santo, are trying to refinance the company and find a strategic investor. A $123 million bond issue comes due in July and must be paid, while sales dropped 17.5%, to $485 million, last year.

The refinancing will be easier than finding a partner. A Versace spokesman in Milan says banks have agreed to lend the company $172 million to repay the bond and provide working capital. That will be repaid through cash flow from operations and the sale of "nonstrategic assets," such as real estate and artwork collected by the late Gianni. A year from now, analysts predict, Versace's debt will drop to half the current load of $144 million.

Attracting investors will be harder, since Donatella and Santo don't want to part with more than 30% of the company. "Obviously, you have more people interested in taking a majority stake," says Antoine Colonna, Merrill Lynch's luxury-goods analyst in Paris. Outgoing Gucci chief Domenico De Sole and Bernard Arnault of LVMH were rumored to be shopping, but both have denied interest. Fashion executives say that although Donatella's designs are strong and her customer base is loyal, disputes between Santo and her have created cost and production woes. Any investor putting in money would want some managerial control.

Intriguingly, bringing in a partner would also dilute Allegra's stake below 50%. As it stands, a buyer could get control by dealing directly with Allegra. And that's a nightmare any mom could relate to.

--Janet Guyon