Christian Lacroix bid arrivederci to Emilio Pucci on Tuesday.

Confirming a WWD report on Monday, the celebrated couturier said he would part ways with the Florentine house in order to concentrate on his signature business, which Florida-based Falic Group bought from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton last January.

Lacroix also ends an awkward entanglement with the French luxury giant that launched his couture house 18 years ago, only to off-load it suddenly last January.

"Our collaboration will end with this show," Pucci's chief executive, Catherine Vautrin, said backstage minutes before Lacroix's swan song.

Although she declined to give specifics, Vautrin acknowledged a search is under way to find Lacroix's successor and several options are being explored. London-based designer Matthew Williamson is said to be the front-runner to replace Lacroix, although the presence of designer Inacio Ribeiro of the print-happy London label Clements Ribeiro backstage on Tuesday raised more than a few eyebrows.

But Ribeiro flatly denied any deal was in the works. "Rumors are spiraling out of control," he said. "I was just back there to say, 'Hi' to Christian."

Meanwhile, Vautrin accentuated the positive and she and Laudomia Pucci, image director, jointly thanked Lacroix for energizing the house and for designs that helped propel the label to sales of 45 million euros, or about $55 million, last year — quadruple what they were four years ago.

Lacroix said it was an emotional parting. "I really felt Pucci in my blood," he said. "There was a very, very good chemistry."

Still, the demands of the job were multiplying. Since signing on in April 2002, Lacroix has seen Pucci rapidly expand its retail presence, add on pre-collections and expand the accessories and footwear categories.

With boutiques slated to open soon in Rome and Bal Harbor, Fla., Pucci will end 2005 with a total of 29 stores, a big leap from the two locations it had in 2000 when LVMH bought a majority stake. Pucci continues to enter new markets, with South Korea and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the latest conquests, and Vautrin described the business in Japan as "booming."

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