MILAN An Italian state-backed fund and private equity firm CCMP Capital are the leading candidates to buy a stake in fashion house Versace, sources familiar with the matter said.
The Italian luxury goods group is selling a stake of around 20 percent ahead of a possible stock market listing in three to five years, with the aim of raising funds to open more shops internationally and develop its clothing and accessories ranges.
It hopes to have a shortlist of three investors by Christmas and to complete the sale in the first quarter of 2014, the sources said.
Chairman and core shareholder Santo Versace said in November a new investor could emerge by Christmas.
Versace, like fellow Italian brands Armani and Missoni, is still owned by the family of its founder, Gianni Versace, who died in 1997.
By opening up to an eventual listing, it could follow fashion market success stories like Salvatore Ferragamo (SFER.MI) which listed publicly in 2011 and has seen its shares treble in value.
Investors showed their appetite for luxury companies again on Wednesday when Moncler, maker of 1,200 euro quilted jackets, priced a share sale at the top of its price range.
Italy's state-backed Fondo Strategico Italiano (FSI) is keen to secure the Versace stake and would put in an offer valuing the whole company at 1.1 billion euros ($1.5 billion), people familiar with the situation have said.
One of CCMP's senior advisers, Robert Singer, is one of three board members at Versace who do not belong to the founder's family.
French private equity firm Ardian and Bahrain-based fund Investcorp INVB.BH are the most likely bidders to join CCMP and FSI on the shortlist, the sources said.
Italian private equity firm Clessidra has also said it is interested the stake. Sources say other bidders include private equity firms Blackstone (BX.N) and Permira.
Permira, which bought and then sold Italian fashion house Valentino and recently added British boot brand Dr Martens to its portfolio, is less likely to secure the stake as it would want to be involved in running the company, while Versace is looking for a financial rather than an industrial partner, sources say.
Ardian, Blackstone, CCMP, FSI, Investcorp and Permira declined to comment.
($1 = 0.7271 euros)
(Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Mark Potter)