PARIS — Sportswear brand Puma AG on Thursday named Cyprus-born designer Hussein Chalayan as its creative director and acquired a majority stake in his signature fashion brand, confirming a report in WWD.Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed. The announcement came a day after the London-based designer unveiled his fall women's wear collection here."Hussein Chalayan is a proven visionary in the fashion industry," Jochen Zeitz, chairman and chief executive officer of Herzogenaurach, Germany-based Puma, said at a press conference here Thursday. "As creative director, he will bring use of new technology, forward-thinking design and a provocative point of view to Puma."Chalayan becomes Puma's first creative director, according to Zeitz, as well as the first fashion designer to be appointed as creative director of a major sports label. Last year, retail and luxury conglomerate PPR purchased a 62.1 percent stake in Puma."Acquiring majority shares of the Hussein Chalayan brand is giving Puma the ability to move into a new space, expanding our reach to become the most desirable sports lifestyle company in the world," Zeitz said, noting that the designer retains a substantial share in his namesake company.Last week, Puma, Europe's second largest sporting goods brand after Adidas, reported that full-year earnings increased 2.2 percent to 269 million euros, or $371 million, on sales that rose 0.2 percent to 2.37 billion euros, or $3.28 billion. This is not the first time Puma has ventured into the fashion arena.According to Zeitz, Puma's collaboration with Jil Sander 10 years ago was the first between a sports label and a fashion designer — ahead of rival Adidas' Y-3 collaboration with Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. "[Puma] was the first to use the word 'fashion' in our strategy and to do collaborations with designers such as Jil Sander and Neil Barrett," Zeitz said.The company has since tied up with high-end designers such as Alexander McQueen and Philippe Starck. Puma also boasts a cobranded shoe collection with Italian motorcycle maker Ducati Motor Holding SpA, and last year it tapped Dutch designer Marcel Wanders to create an accessories line. It also has a denim collaboration with Hong Kong-based Evisu and produces jeans in-house as part of a new lifestyle subbrand, dubbed Dassler.Zeitz said the partnership with Chalayan brings its fashion involvement to the next level. "This is not a collaboration; this is a long-term partnership. He is part of our business and we are part of his," said Zeitz."This isn't a short-term relationship; this is a marriage," agreed Chalayan. "Combining Puma's infrastructure and technological platform with PPR facilities, we will be able to turn experimental ideas into reality, both for the Puma and Chalayan lines. Hopefully people will have the means to access real products evolving from our process rather than only seeing them in shows and events." Effective immediately, Chalayan will take on the creative mantle designing all product categories — footwear, apparel and accessories — for Puma's Sport Fashion and lifestyle categories. The collections, which will be positioned at a premium price point for the sportswear category, will be sold through select Puma stores, key concept stores and shop-in-shops worldwide. "My way of thinking is very appropriate for sports," offered Chalayan. "There is something in sportswear that is less transient than in fashion. You are constantly building and developing products and technology." Zeitz said he hoped the deal would boost Puma's apparel business, which today is led by the brand's footwear sales. For 2007, Puma sales in the footwear segment increased 1.9 percent to 1.48 billion euros, or $2.02 billion at average exchange, while apparel sales increased by 5.7 percent to 998.7 million euros, or $1.37 billion.Puma also will help to build Chalayan's business internationally, according to Zeitz. "The time has come now for [Chalayan] to fully expand his potential and build his brand. It is the best opportunity [for Chalayan] to evolve in a retail environment," Zeitz said.Zeitz did not rule out building stand-alone Hussein Chalayan stores in the future, but said the company would aim to grow via wholesale channels in the short to medium term."His line will be sold at top accounts. We will build a viable business model before venturing into other channels," Zeitz said. Chalayan agreed. "We want to become a global brand, but gradually, in a healthy way," the designer said.
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