By  on January 30, 2009

PARIS — Louis Vuitton executives will be tracking the weather forecast as regularly as the stock markets over the next fortnight as the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series sailing competition begins in Auckland, New Zealand, today.

Around 170 yachtsmen have descended upon the country’s largest city, where a temporary floating bridge has been built across the harbor. With racing close to shore to enable viewing plus an international media presence of 100 journalists, Vuitton executives hope the event — 90 percent of which the company has funded, with the rest paid for by New Zealand’s government — will generate widespread interest.

“You know New Zealand’s population is four million, and they say there are four million sailors,” said Vuitton chairman and chief executive officer Yves Carcelle, who will fly in for the finale, while Pietro Beccari, Vuitton’s senior vice president, also will attend.

Ten teams from nine countries are set to race, including teams from China, Greece and South Africa, plus Team New Zealand, an event partner. Italy has two entrants: Luna Rossa, which was founded by Prada Group ceo Patrizio Bertelli, and Damiani Italia Challenge team, sponsored by the jewelry firm Damiani.

Unlike the America’s Cup, which is delayed due to the ongoing legal battle between biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, head of the current Swiss America’s Cup holder, and Oracle’s Larry Ellison, teams in the Vuitton series will sail in the same, identically equipped four boats.

“While the lawyers are fighting in court, the teams here are very friendly,” reported Bruno Troublé, spokesman for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series and formerly for the Louis Vuitton Cup, which the luxury label sponsored for 25 years.

While several potential series competitors withdrew for economic reasons, rotating boats means costs are less than usual. “It’s much cheaper than sending 25-ton boats across the world,” Troublé said.

Though executives wouldn’t disclose budgets, the competition has cost around 20 times less than the Louis Vuitton Cup, according to Troublé, who expects a higher return on investment.

Planned events include a party for 600 guests in Maori territory near Auckland on Feb. 7. Vuitton’s latest New Zealand store, in Auckland, meanwhile, will host a sailing exhibition showing art inspired by the America’s Cup. Vuitton also will preview its new Escale wraparound shades, which float, and promote its Tambour Lovely Cup watch, released for the Louis Vuitton Cup.

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