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Ralph Toledano Heading to Puig

Executive expected to helm Jean Paul Gaultier first, and later Nina Ricci, too.

Manuel Puig and Ralph Toledano

PARIS — Putting more management muscle behind its Paris-based fashion houses, Puig has tapped former Chloé chairman and chief executive officer Ralph Toledano to lead development at Jean Paul Gaultier, effective Jan. 30.

Toledano is expected to add Nina Ricci to his responsibilities in about a year’s time. In addition to his new position at Puig, Toledano will continue to serve as chairman of St. John, where he was appointed last August, for the foreseeable future.

At Puig, the high-profile hire follows its acquisition of a majority stake in Gaultier last May, and underscores how the Barcelona-based company is aiming to become a bigger and more formidable player on the international fashion scene.

Toledano is to report to Manuel Puig, vice chairman of family-owned Puig, who said he would continue to be based out of Paris and involved in Puig’s fashion businesses.

Puig had relocated to Paris in 2008 and orchestrated a hands-on turnaround at Ricci, while also functioning as interim president at Gaultier.

In a joint interview at Ricci headquarters on Wednesday, Toledano and Puig shared their ambitions to bring Gaultier’s fashion business in line with the designer’s acclaim, design prowess and cult following.

“He’s by far the most talented designer of his generation. There’s no one who can interpret the Parisian better than Jean Paul,” Toledano enthused. “The business could be more important than it is today. That’s the challenge.”

“I think there’s tremendous potential for growth,” he added, noting the Gaultier house could one day represent “several hundred million.”

Gaultier’s business generates most of its revenues from licensing royalties, including for its main collection, produced by Italy’s Aeffe, and its 25 boutiques.

According to the most recent annual report of Hermès International, which sold its 45 percent stake in Gaultier to Puig, revenues in 2010 at Gaultier rose 5 percent to 24 million euros, or $31.8 million at average exchange rates for the period.

Market sources estimate all Gaultier products generate annual retail volume of about 500 million euros, or $662.6 million at current exchange.

Come mid-2016, Puig will get its hands on Gaultier’s lucrative fragrance license, currently held by Beauté Prestige International, a subsidiary of Japan’s Shiseido. Puig and Toledano stressed that freeing Gaultier of business worries to concentrate on creative matters is a primary mission.

The energetic designer, who retains a 40 percent stake in his namesake company, is to present his men’s collection here today and show his couture collection on Wednesday.

Since exiting Chloé in August 2010, Toledano has done strategic consulting, and last August was named chairman at Irvine, Calif.-based fashion company St. John. Toledano told WWD that he plans to continue at St. John: “I have to meet my commitment to Jim Kelley,” he said, referring to the president of Vestar Capital Partners, which owns St. John. “We are making nice progress, and it’s very encouraging.” Toledano, on St. John’s board for the past year, has continued to operate out of Paris.

Before Chloé, Toledano was ceo of Guy Laroche, where he discovered Alber Elbaz, and earlier was ceo of Karl Lagerfeld SA.

Toledano noted he has known Puig chairman and ceo Marc Puig for about a dozen years, and “with Marc and Manuel, we share the same values, and how we see the business.”

A well-respected executive, Toledano is known for his close ties to retailers, and for a strong product orientation.

Puig said he’s confident Toledano is the right leader to accelerate development at its fashion division.

“He is a master in command, I am very pleased to have him with me, and I’m sure we’ll share a lot of pains and glories,” he said, flashing a big smile. “Puig is not only playing in fashion just to say we own the business but because we want to develop the fashion.…In the long term, growing the fashion is key for the survival of a brand, and we want to be the owners of our destiny.”

Puig, too, has earned his fashion stripes since taking the helm of Ricci, tapping designer Peter Copping from Louis Vuitton, who has received strong reviews for his collections and earned respect from opinion leaders.

Sales in Puig’s fashion division — comprised primarily of Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci — gained 25 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Puig said Wednesday that the Ricci fashion house is progressing at a double-digit growth rate and expanding its wholesale distribution. He noted a London boutique is planned for the next year.

Toledano will not be involved in Paco Rabanne, which falls under the purview of Puig’s chief brand officer, José Manuel Albesa.

Puig remains a major player in the global perfume business with strong licensing partners. Names in its prestige stable include Comme des Garçons Parfums, Prada Parfums and Payot.

Among owned brands, which include Carolina Herrera, Rabanne has been a key driver, thanks to the men’s scent 1 Million, launched in 2008 and followed up in 2010 with a successful feminine counterpart, Lady Million.

Puig sells its products in more than 130 countries and counts 3,500 employees around the world.