Byline: Sarah Raper and Sophie d'Aulnay

PARIS--In a rare move, L'Oreal reached outside the company Tuesday and plucked Conde Nast veteran Gerald Asaria for the top operational post at the Lanvin fashion house, a subsidiary of the beauty giant.
Asaria, 52, was chairman of Conde Nast SA in France for seven years, until last September. He launched Vogue Hommes in 1976, and in 1988 started French Glamour. Conde Nast said Tuesday that Glamour will fold in March 1995 and be merged into French Vogue.
Loic Armand, a L'Oreal veteran who was brought in as Lanvin president in April 1993 to pull the money-losing fashion house back into the black, will be given another "important international" post within L'Oreal, probably by mid-January, according to a spokesman. Armand previously ran L'Oreal's subsidiary in Mexico.
Asaria will start work Jan. 4 and will be managing director of Jeanne Lanvin SA. Gilles Weil, L'Oreal vice president and worldwide managing director of L'Oreal's prestige businesses, will be president.
Asaria declined comment other than to say he "honestly considered Lanvin" to be a great label and was happy to be joining L'Oreal.
Executives throughout the company praised Armand's efforts to turn around the house, which has annual fashion sales of $57 million at current exchange rates (310 million francs).
The turnaround was accomplished by slashing Lanvin's worldwide work force by a third to 355 employees, selling off real estate and cutting other costs. After Armand arrived, losses at Lanvin were eased from $24 million (130 million francs) in 1992, to $22.2 million (120 million francs) last year. The house is expected to show losses of around $4 million for 1994.
L'Oreal chairman Lindsay Owen-Jones has said he expects Lanvin to turn a profit in 1995.
"It's not at all the same type of situation that we were in 20 months ago," said a delighted Armand. "What's clear is that the house of Lanvin is heading in the right direction."
He said that the Paris men's and women's flagship boutiques have been giving healthy signs of a strong pickup, with an approximate 40 percent sales increase in the last few months over 1993.
Jean-Pierre Valeriola, L'Oreal vice president for communications, acknowledged that it was unusual for L'Oreal to hire outside its own ranks for an important post. "But it does happen. There are fields that we know perfectly but there are others we do not know as well," he said. "We have brought in people, for example, in research."
Now that the financial picture has improved, he said, L'Oreal wants to focus on product development and the firm wanted someone with experience and connections in the fashion industry.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for Lanvin to accelerate its development," agreed Armand, referring to the double presence of Asaria and Weil.
Valeriola said that Weil's appointment as president of Lanvin was part of a strategy of finally "categorizing" Lanvin within L'Oreal's hierarchy after years of treating it separately.
L'Oreal and Orcofi, a Vuitton family holding headed by Henry Racamier, jointly bought Lanvin in 1990 from Midland Bank and the Lanvin family for $93 million (500 million francs). However, Lanvin's ambitious expansion program under president Michel Pietrini ran into serious problems as the recession took hold.
After Lanvin spent three years in the red, Pietrini was succeeded by Armand. During this period, L'Oreal upped its stake in Lanvin from the initial 50 percent to its current 66 percent. Orcofi still has 34 percent.
This time around, Armand insisted that the executive switch would be gradual. "The transfer of power will be made progressively over the first three months of 1995, he said, adding that he and Asaria would go together to Pitti Uomo in Florence and to New York in early February to present the men's line to American buyers. "The strategy will not change," he said. "It's all part of a three-year plan."
In the fragrance division, Georges Klarsfeld, international managing director of L'Oreal's designer fragrance division including Lanvin, said he was "thrilled" about Asaria's appointment. Lanvin has annual fragrance sales of $11 million (60 million francs).
"Since the house is in order financially--and even the fragrance is growing at a steady pace--it's time to focus on the product," Klarsfeld said.
"I cannot think of anybody better-placed to do that. He's a businessman, he is highly respected in the fashion world and very international."
In a separate statement, the L'Oreal board said Tuesday that Andre Bettencourt, 75, who represents the group's founding family and majority shareholders as vice chairman of the board, was retiring. He will be succeeded by his son-in-law, Jean-Pierre Meyers, 46, who has been on the board since 1987.

To access this article, click here to subscribe or to log in.

To Read the Full Article

Tap into our Global Network

Of Industry Leaders and Designers

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus