By  on November 8, 2007

PARIS — Guy Laroche is taking another crack at reviving its moribund fashion business.

The house, which is owned by China's YGM Trading, has appointed Marcel Marongiu as consulting artistic director.

A Swede who closed his own Paris house over a year ago after a conflict with his Japanese shareholder, Marongiu, 45, is expected to devote most of his attention to Laroche. However, he will continue to maintain his other consulting gigs, including the French porcelain business Artoria and several textile companies.

"We had fallen very low," admitted Hendrik Penndorf, 43, who was appointed Laroche's chief executive officer last spring. "We made every mistake that a fashion brand can make."

Margongiu's appointment comes over a year after Laroche parted ways with Hervé L. Leroux — the former Hervé Léger — who had given the house momentum during his two years at the design helm.

Most significantly, Leroux won Laroche worldwide media attention when actress Hilary Swank turned up in a backless Laroche gown to pick up her best actress Oscar in 2005.

Since Leroux's departure, Penndorf said the house "floated" as a design team failed to imbue Laroche with any pep. (Previous to Leroux, the last designer to catch the industry's eye at Laroche was Alber Elbaz, who worked for the house from 1996 to 1998, and who is now at Lanvin.)

Penndorf said he hopes Marongiu, whose own collections showcased urbane sophistication, will find the groove to reverse Laroche's slide into fashion purgatory.

"Laroche is [meant to be] pragmatic and creative but very wearable," offered Marongiu, who added he would emphasize the house's couture heritage for striking evening gowns. "Laroche is not about ephemeral fashion," said the designer. "We need to re-create an identity."

Penndorf said Laroche's revenues are about 300 million to 350 million euros, or $450 million to $507.5 million, mostly generated by some 80 licenses the house operates. Most sales are generated in Asia, where the brand has a significant presence in China and Japan, with the rest coming from Europe.

Business for the premium women's fashion line, however, is close to nil."We want to elevate Laroche to a luxury business," said Penndorf. "We now are concentrating on developing the first line."

Penndorf said Marongiu, whose first ready-to-wear show will be during the Paris couture in January, will also have creative purview over Laroche's licenses. "We want to homogenize them and [bring a more upscale image]," he said.

He added he would not be averse to signing new licenses once he felt Laroche was back on track.

"We wouldn't mind a license for a second line," he said. "But it takes time to build a solid [foundation]."

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