By  on March 3, 2006

MILAN — Miu Miu is having her moment. And with her trademark spunkiness, she's having it at a Parisian restaurant that served luminaries like Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola and offered secluded spots for trysts with mistresses.

Miuccia Prada's hotly anticipated show Sunday at cozy Laperouse isn't just a highlight for Paris Fashion Week, nor a void in the Milan lineup. It marks a coming-of-age for the Italian brand, long considered Prada's little sister.

"After showing in London, New York and Milan, it is the right moment to show in Paris, the ideal location for a young brand that aims to strengthen its presence on the international scene," Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli told WWD.

Bertelli is out to defy some industry-held notions of Miu Miu, which posted 2005 sales of 129 million euros, or $161.25 million, as just a diffusion line or secondary collection.

"Miu Miu is a brand with its own identity," he said. "It has grown considerably in terms of content and quality. We want our clients and the industry to clearly understand this."

Since the brand was launched in 1993, with a cowgirl-themed collection of fringed suede jackets and patchwork prairie skirts, Miu Miu has evolved into one of the most influential collections coming out of Milan, possibly because Miuccia Prada, or Miu Miu to her friends, takes such a raw, unfiltered approach to designing it.

"When I am working on Miu Miu [it] has to come immediately, instinctively, spontaneously with whatever is available at the moment. If I think three times, I stop," Prada said.

The inspiration may be spontaneous, but the strategy guiding the brand's development is anything but that. Miu Miu sales grew about 18 percent last year. The brand suffered in 2002 and 2003, mirroring declines in Prada's revenue that were blamed on a cocktail of unfavorable exchange rates, shifting delivery times and overall macroeconomic difficulties. But sales rebounded in 2004 and zoomed in 2005.

With its network of 29 stores and 500 wholesale accounts and an especially strong presence in Asia, there's plenty of untapped potential at the quirky brand, the group believes. Growing Miu Miu is a timely priority given Prada's sale of Jil Sander to Change Capital last week. Although Jil Sander was losing money and biting into Prada's margins, the German brand was the second-biggest revenue-generating label for the group. It posted 2004 sales of 136.8 million euros, or $169.6 million at average exchange rates.

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