By and  on July 31, 2006

MILAN — Valentino Fashion Group SpA's first-half net profits surged nearly 46 percent as the company revealed that top executive Michele Norsa will step down at the end of September.

Norsa, a nine-year company veteran, is chief executive of fashion house Valentino SpA and general manager of Valentino FG's licensed brands M Missoni and Marlboro Classics. Valentino FG president Antonio Favrin will take over Norsa's post on an interim basis.

Norsa said the parting with Valentino was amicable. He is taking on a new job, but declined to identify his next employer.

"I am very happy," he told WWD. "Later on we'll communicate what I'll be doing." Norsa said an announcement regarding his new job is due next week.

Valentino FG said Norsa will remain a board member of Valentino SpA for an unspecified length of time to help with the transition. "The board thanks Michele Norsa for the important work he completed and wishes him all the best in his new position," the firm said in a statement.

The hard-working executive spearheaded the Valentino turnaround and played a critical role in Marzotto SpA's stock market spin-off of its fashion interests into Valentino Fashion Group. But a source close to Norsa said he grew frustrated with the fact that his title didn't reflect the level of responsibility he had at the company and the work he was doing for the other brands in the group's portfolio.

There has been speculation recently that Norsa could be headed to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in some capacity, although an LVMH spokesman denied Friday that the French luxury giant has hired the Italian. Following the announcement of his departure from Valentino, some insiders speculated Norsa could be heading to an investment bank or private equity fund.

That's not the only unanswered question at the company. The fashion industry continues to ask how much longer 74-year-old Valentino Garavani's career will last. The designer, who just snagged France's Legion d'honneur earlier this month, has a contract that expires next summer. The fashion house is currently preparing for his 45th anniversary show in Paris next March.

Sources close to the company are tight-lipped on the state of contract negotiations, but it said Matteo Marzotto, chief operating officer at Valentino SpA, has started looking for a successor. There has been some speculation around one of the high-profile designers currently without a fashion house — Olivier Theyskens — but it could not be learned whether there has been contact between the former designer at Rochas and the Italian company.Valentino FG's net profits for the six months ended June 30 rose 45.8 percent to 35 million euros, or $43.1 million. Revenues for the period advanced 13.8 percent to 926 million euros, or $1.14 billion. (All dollar figures have been converted from euro at average exchange rates.)

Favrin said he sees high sales growth for the rest of the year.

Revenues at Valentino rose 18 percent to 114 million euros, or $140.22 million. Sales of Marlboro Classics and other lines advanced 10 percent to 133 million euros, or $163.6 million.

Hugo Boss revenues rose 14 percent to 712 million euros, or $875.8 million, in the half. Hugo Boss AG reported its second- quarter numbers on Thursday.

Valentino FG's first-half operating profits rose 19 percent to 94 million euros, or $115.6 million.

It also cut its net financial debt to 407 million euros, or $500.6 million, from 425 million euros, or $544 million, as of June 30 last year.

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