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The Deal: Searching for the Next Michael Kors at Fashion Week

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- The beginning of every February and September heralds a new fashion season, but one that has nothing to do with the weather currently outside.

That's because major fashion brands from Ralph Lauren (RL) to Calvin Klein (PVH) to Michael Kors (KORS) are showing off their latest wares for a season months away.

This September the clothes snaking their way down the runways are for spring and summer in 2014 and won't be seen on racks and shelves until January.

The rotation begins with a fashion week in New York City, and makes its way through London and Milan, ending in the world's fashion capital, Paris.

Although the events are organized as separate fashion weeks by those cities' local trade organizations, the procession really constitutes a Fashion Month, with many of the same globetrotters hopping from city to city, show to show, all in hopes of seeing something new.

But over the past few years the fashion crowd has been forced to acknowledge a new presence, industry watchers said, as investment bankers and partners at private equity firms have taken seats alongside magazine editors, store buyers and fashion critics.

What they are looking for has less to do with what's caught in fashion's klieg lights, and more to do with whether the company putting on the show they are attending could be the next Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. or Prada SpA Group.

But most bets in the fashion world go awry. Success is difficult to replicate -- think hitting the lottery rather than applying a scientific formula. Still, the brands that have made it big provide some guidance for investors eager to bankroll next season's breakout hit. In a word: Accessorize.

Michael Kors has been around since the 1980s, but thanks to the designer's stint on the reality television show Project Runway, a slick American sportswear aesthetic and a group of talented executives and investors who dusted off the brand, it went from rags to hot-selling handbags the world over.

The company went bankrupt in 1993, was sold off in 2003 by a group including luxury giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton -- a move suggesting the luxury giant saw no real future for the business -- and finally held an eye-popping initial public offering in December 2011. Today Michael Kors is trading near its 52-week-high, last closing above $74 a share, with a market cap of nearly $15 billion.

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