LOS ANGELES -- Gary Nickerson, who built La Blanca into a leading contemporary women's swimwear resource in the past 12 years, will leave the firm on July 1.

Marvin Goodman, president of Apparel Ventures, La Blanca's parent firm, will take over as president of La Blanca.

Nickerson will stay with the company to complete the cruise 1994 season and help to develop the 1995 line. Stephanie Bakulich, a 13-year Apparel Ventures veteran, has been named executive vice president and will assist Goodman in the management and operations of the division. For the past two years, Bakulich has been president of the import division.

Goodman, in announcing Nickerson's departure, said there were basic differences regarding corporate strategy for Apparel Ventures and La Blanca, but declined to detail them.

Industry sources said La Blanca does more than $30 million in volume annually.

Contacted in his offices here, Nickerson said, "Over the past year we've had our differences. What everyone would love to hear is we had a big fight, but it's not true; it's amicable. What's more important is that I just feel it's time to do something else. What that is, I don't know now. I'm not even pursuing anything at this time. I can't stay in one job and think about the next."

Although La Blanca was a division of Apparel Ventures, it was operated as its own company, without much involvement by Goodman or Apparel Ventures. Goodman described Nickerson's performance at La Blanca as "exceptional," but said the split was in the best interest of the company.

"I see many exciting opportunities for La Blanca," Goodman said. "I believe we can aggressively introduce new concepts that will expand the La Blanca product and enhance performance."

La Blanca had been in existence for three or four years, but had been foundering until Nickerson took it over, Goodman recalled.

Nickerson's announcement surprised many in the industry.

Anne Cole, the veteran swimwear designer of the Anne Cole Collection, currently a division of Authentic Fitness Corp., said it was Nickerson who made La Blanca the number-one-selling women's branded swimwear.

"Except for my own departure from the business temporarily, it's the saddest thing I've ever heard," Cole said. "How could he let us down? Who are we are going to compete against? It's very sad and very upsetting."Stacey Siegel, owner of Everything But Water, a swimwear retailer based in Orlando, Fla., with 25 units in the U.S., said La Blanca has been a consistent seller since she opened her first boutique in 1983.

"It's been our number one line for years, ever since he began designing it," Siegel said. "He's so talented and wonderful, he'll be successful wherever he goes. And I feel so strongly about Apparel Ventures, I'm sure they will come up with something."

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