By and  on February 21, 2006

MILAN — Bottega Veneta, once a second-tier brand at Gucci Group that lived in the shadows of Tom Ford's Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, has emerged as a point of strategic focus for its parent company. And forays into fine jewelry and home furnishings indicate even more future momentum for the label, which shows its fall-winter collection here today.

The company is on its way to hitting 200 million euros, or $238.7 million, in sales this year and officially broke away from the crop of emerging labels owned by Gucci Group by breaking into the black in 2005.

To the surprise of many, Bottega Veneta was touted early for growth potential by Franç ois-Henri Pinault shortly after he took over the reins of PPR and Gucci Group owner Artemis in 2004.

The Gucci label, at that time, was by far the group's cash engine, supporting smaller, developmental ventures such as Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, in addition to Yves Saint Laurent, which has failed to break even after years of anticipation. Bottega Veneta fit into that mix as a small, niche leather goods player, albeit one with hefty price tags and intricate craftsmanship. It seemed to be the least likely candidate to break out as a strategic component for the Gucci Group.

Now, company executives exude bullish forecasts for the brand despite its elitist and ultra-selective customer appeal, with handbags starting at $1,500 and running as high as $75,000. Although Bottega Veneta is definitely a niche brand, there is plenty of room for it to grow, they said. A fine jewelry collection of hand-woven gold and diamond pavé designs, which bows on the runway today, is one potential driver for the future.

"It could be 500 million euros [or $597 million at current exchange], it could grow to be bigger than that," Bottega Veneta chief executive officer Patrizio Di Marco told WWD in an exclusive interview, alluding to Hermès' 1.43 billion euros, or $1.71 billion, in turnover as yardstick. "Looking at Hermès' positioning in the mind of the customer, you can't say that it's not exclusive."

Pinault, chairman and ceo of PPR, similarly lauded the brand's financial performance. At the end of 2004, PPR forecast that Bottega Veneta would reach sales of 200 million euros, or $238.7 million, by 2007, a target Pinault now believes the brand will reach by the middle of this year — six months ahead of schedule.

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