By  on June 11, 2007

PARIS — Azzaro, the French fashion house known for its glamorous eveningwear, has named Nathalie Francon chief executive officer, a key move in efforts to build its profile and accelerate sales.

Francon, 38, a former Chanel executive who most recently was chief operating officer at Christian Lacroix, comes to Azzaro less than a year after private equity firm Reig Capital, based in Andorra, acquired the brand, founded by the late Loris Azzaro in 1968.

Francon said she was attracted by the house's "clear and consistent" image and that she was eager to work with designer Vanessa Seward, whose glitzy gowns have brought renewed attention to the house. Seward's fans include Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz and Audrey Toutou.

"I feel Azzaro has huge potential," Francon told WWD in an exclusive interview. "It's like a hidden jewel."

Sagra Maceira de Rosen, who heads Reig's luxury and retail division, said 15 candidates were interviewed for the job, a new post at the company.

"The last owners [France's Frey family] had more of a financial vision for the company," said Maceira de Rosen. "Our first priority after buying Azzaro was hiring a ceo, to have someone to guide the company. We have a long-term commitment to growing this brand."

Maceira de Rosen said she and Francon shared the strategic goals of remaining true to the core dress business while developing retail operations and building accessories.

"We plan to keep Azzaro at the high end, but maybe widen prices and products, always building around the dress," said Maceira de Rosen.

"I think Azzaro can be a 100 to 150 million euro [$134 million to $201 million] business," she added. "We are not going to do that by introducing [a diffusion] brand."

Though Reig declined to pinpoint Azzaro's current sales volume, sources estimated the brand generated about $5 million in sales last year. Maceira de Rosen said she hoped to open stores in key international locations. She said she was zeroing in on a lease for a store in London, and that an address in New York would be the next priority. At present, Azzaro operates one store, in Paris.Maceira de Rosen said the development of accessories, including shoes and costume jewelry, was moving forward. A new costume jewelry line will be unveiled this October for the spring 2008 selling season, she said.

Maceira de Rosen said a full-blown bag collection was a less urgent priority. For the moment, Clarins, which holds the Azzaro fragrance license, also controls rights to develop Azzaro branded leather goods. Francon said Azzaro had approached Clarins about assuming those rights.

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