By  on November 22, 2005

Milan — Gucci is celebrating the holiday season as a benevolent Father Christmas.

For its most philanthropic charity event ever, the luxury goods house has joined with UNICEF to aid some 15 million orphans, most in south central Africa, who have lost their parents to AIDS.

A 15-piece collection of logo candles, stuffed teddy bears, the new Treasure bag in ostrich, chain-mail belts and printed scarves will be featured in red or embellished with Gucci's staple red-green-red ribbon. They will be showcased in dedicated areas in 200 Gucci stores worldwide and wrapped with special paper. Retail prices range from $65 for candles to $ 3,180 for the ostrich bag.

Twenty percent of the proceeds will go to UNICEF in support of schooling, medical care and food, water and clothing.

"The idea was born because Gucci obviously does so much business at Christmas that we wanted to use the opportunity to raise our social responsibility," Mark Lee, Gucci's chief executive officer, said in an interview. "We are a global company and so is UNICEF. They do a great job with children's actions and we wanted to give something back by taking advantage of our international network of stores." He added that they chose the AIDS cause because it is a heartfelt issue.

"Gucci's choice of helping people with AIDS-related problems was a courageous one because not all companies comply this easily to the issue. We are very proud of them," said Annita Di Donata, head of partnership programs at UNICEF. "[Gucci's] is a very international support plan in which the company is investing a lot, also in terms of marketing."

To that end, Gucci will seek to boost traffic in its top stores through a series of late-evening openings that the brand is calling "white nights." It kicks off in U.S. stores today for a day and is to wind down on Dec. 29 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. A dozen stores from Milan to Paris to Vienna will take part during that period.

While it's not unusual for Gucci's U.S. unit to kick off the Christmas shopping season by opening after regular hours, the fact that Gucci is transplanting that concept to Europe is new. "We expect good traffic also because the windows will enhance our initiative by displaying the products and the UNICEF logo," Lee said. "We feel that a good amount will be spent."

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