By  on October 4, 2005

PARIS — After a dark period that saw 31 employees axed from the payroll and a spotlight shone on its deep financial woes, Jean Paul Gaultier is on the rebound.

Ready-to-wear sales are advancing at a double-digit pace, a second Moscow boutique is in the works less than six months after the first one bowed, and the designer's Hong Kong partners are chomping at the bit to bring in Gaultier's couture collection to solicit orders from wealthy Chinese clients.

What's more, the company — which unveils its spring collection on the runway here today — looks on track to break even in 2006, according to Eric Labaume, the company's new president.

In his first interview since arriving at Gaultier in April from Balmain, Labaume acknowledged plenty of work ahead, particularly in the underdeveloped accessories category and a stalled men's wear business.

Mostly, however, he accentuated the positive, hailing Gaultier's deep creative reserves, improving morale within the company and product initiatives, like a new eyewear collection licensed to De Rigo bowing at the Silmo show later this month.

"I am very confident that we will stay with double-digit increases," Labaume said, affirming that level of bookings for the pre-spring collection shown to buyers in July. "When I came back from vacation, one of the first things I did was visit our boutique on George V. It was in late August and the manager told me he had already sold 45 percent of what he had received. These are pretty good indications."

The layoffs in January, which affected seamstresses, designers, sales and administrative staff, were not the final retrenchment.

The future of the company's store at 761 Madison Avenue is in flux, with some saying it has closed and others insisting it remains open. Sources said the terms of the lease require it to remain open or Gaultier will have to pay a huge penalty. They said the store opens a few days a month just to satisfy that requirement. Calls to the store on Monday were not answered. A staff member at Aeffe, Gaultier's U.S. representative, said the store is closed for renovation, while Gaultier officials in Paris declined comment on the unit, which opened with much fanfare in 2002 and has a Philippe Starck interior and crystal clothing racks.

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