By and and and  on January 16, 2009

Patricia Turck Paquelier, who married the dynamics of high fashion with luxury beauty as a top executive at industry leader L’Oréal, died Wednesday night in a Paris hospital after a long battle with cancer. She was 51.

Turck Paquelier, international brand president of L’Oréal’s Prestige & Collection International division, had returned to work in the fall but apparently suffered a relapse during the holidays.

She had moved from one top job to another during her 31-year career, starting with 13 years at Procter & Gamble Co., where she rose to marketing director of health and beauty care, France, before joining Yves Saint Laurent Parfums and Cosmetics in 1991 as international brand president.

Her career blossomed when Turck Paquelier joined the Luxury Products Division of the L’Oréal Group in 1996, heading the Giorgio Armani division. In 2001, she assumed the presidency of Prestige & Collections, reporting to Marc Menesguen, the global head of the Luxury Products Division as an executive vice president of L’Oréal.

In addition to Armani, Turck Paquelier also worked with Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren of Viktor & Rolf; Renzo Rosso, chairman and chief executive officer of Diesel, and Martin Margiela.

Jean-Paul Agon, L’Oréal’s ceo, said in a lengthy, touching and heartfelt note to his executives: “Ever since Patricia joined the group in 1996, her consummate talent, her extraordinary commitment and her high ideals of luxury, have had a constant impact on the success of the division.”

And there also was an outpouring of sentiment from those she had worked with outside the company. “The news of Patricia’s death has come as a great shock to me,” stated Armani. “We worked together for more than 10 years. She was young, talented and energetic, and she faced her illness with real courage and dignity. She was able to understand my thoughts and my intentions and knew how to interpret them with the utmost care. I shall miss Patricia very much.”

Rosso said, “I’m stunned and sad. I had lunch with Patricia a week before Christmas and she was her usual energetic, smiley and lucid self. She didn’t miss a beat of our conversation and I really thought her health was much better. I’ll miss her deeply because it was thanks to her that I chose L’Oréal amongst the many competitors that courted us when we decided to enter the fragrance business. She had a fresh and open mentality in a beauty world that is conservative and she really believed in all our projects.”

“She was really like our fairy godmother,” said Horsting of Viktor & Rolf. “It was really her idea to introduce us to L’Oréal. She had that vision that this could work.”

Turck Paquelier organized a lunch with L’Oréal executives in Paris to celebrate after the designers had signed the contract, Horsting recalled. Emerging from the restaurant on the Avenue Montaigne, a band struck up some festive music, and rice was showered on the men. She said, “‘This is for us because we are married.’”

“She was a very passionate woman: passionate about fashion; passionate about her business,” Snoeren said. “She loved the process of creating perfumes. She obviously had a very good eye and a very good nose.”

Maison Martin Margiela stated its deep and profound sadness over Turck Paquelier’s death. “She was a key person in our collaboration with L’Oréal not just professionally, but also personally,” the company said. “We have a great respect for her. She had true instinct, genuine talent and the capacity to listen, something extremely rare nowadays. We will all miss her very much.”

All this was underscored by Agon, who lavished on the praise, starting with her success — through her passion for creation and rapport with the designer — in building Giorgio Armani Parfums and Cosmetics into “one of the premium luxury beauty brands on the planet.” Similarly, “it was she who identified the potential of the Viktor & Rolf brand, its modernity and daring,” Agon said, adding that Turck Paquelier also was the one who was able to convince Rosso to pick L’Oréal, giving the luxury division a chance “to push back creative frontiers and make Diesel a fabulous alternative to classic luxury.” Agon noted, “She had a great entrepreneurial spirit.”

He also praised her “exceptional leadership” in forging the integration of Biotherm and Helena Rubinstein as “an integral and dynamic part of Prestige & Collections International, alongside the creator fragrance brands.”

Turck Paquelier, who mentored “a whole generation of young talents,” always moved forward. “Patricia took on her illness with an extraordinary fighting spirit,” Agon said, “never complaining, and every one of us can only admire this supreme lesson in courage and dignity.”

Laurent Attal, president and ceo of L’Oréal USA in New York, agreed. “There is no doubt that Patricia’s dedication, commitment and creative spirit will live on through everyone she touched and the work that she did. She will be greatly missed.”

One of those American colleagues was Jack Wiswall, the retired president of the Designer Fragrance Division. “I am totally devastated,” he said. “Personally, I adored her.”

Chantal Roos, a leader at YSL Beauté before and after Turck Paquelier’s tenure, described her as “one of the great ladies that have been so important in France’s fragrance world.” Daniela Rinaldi, head of beauty buying and concessions at Harvey Nichols in London, summed up Turck Paquelier: “A risk-taker, at times unconventional but with incredible foresight.”

She is survived by her husband, Philippe, and two children, Cécilia and François. Funeral plans were not known at press time.

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