Italian fashion house Prada on Monday said it had sold a 45 per cent stake in luxury shoe firm Church’s to Equinox just four years after acquiring the famous footwear brand.

The company said the private equity fund had bought the stake for an undisclosed sum although city experts believe it would have been for less than the £106 million it paid for Church’s in 2000.

Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli said in a statement he remained committed to the Northampton-based shoe maker, which was founded in 1873 and sells shoes for £200 a pair.

"Prada has successfully concluded the restructuring and relaunching phase of Church's. Now an agreement with a financial partner like Equinox . . . will allow us to execute an important growth plan for one of our most prestigious brands, accompanied by a noteworthy expansion of its product."

Prada is reported to have debts of around one billion euros and its latest disposal follows the sale of its 25 per cent stake in fashion label Fendi for 295 million euros in late 2001.