By  on February 4, 2002

MILAN -- "Valentino is a brand destined to live," states Fabio Giombini, chief executive of the luxury goods company. "The label is still vital and is looking for new ways to appeal to a new and younger customer."

While the fashion industry speculates about the company's possible new owners, Giombini said he was satisfied with what had been achieved in the past two years. In 1999, company sales were $90.5 million, rising to $137.1 million in 2000 and by an estimated 10 percent last year. While in 1999 royalties accounted for 59 percent of sales, and for 32 percent in 2000, they accounted for only 14 percent of sales in 2001.

"Though we've cut royalties, increased costs and faced a very difficult market, we've focused on retailing, successfully launched Valentino Roma, increased our accessories business and estimate a double-digit-percent growth in sales for 2002," he said in an exclusive interview with WWD at the stately Valentino Milan offices.

Giombini did not deny it had often been hard to work with all the rumors concerning the future of the company. "The situation [the sale of the fashion division by current owners Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali] could have been handled in a more discreet way and everything has been amplified by the press because of the type of shareholders [which include Italy's Fiat]," said Giombini, pointing out that it was sometimes hard to create a long-lasting, trustful relationship with distributors.

"There were also incredible rumors made up by the press about the contract between Mr. Valentino Garavani and HdP -- personal vacations paid by the company, out-of-this world payments -- these were all inventions," said Giombini.

Giombini, however, said that he registered "no difficulties in the daily management and no specific slowdown of activities."

He reiterated that Valentino Garavani is still very much involved in the company and has no desire to give up his metier. "He sold the company to focus on design and to slow down his daily activities, but he still wants to have his say," said Giombini. Valentino's contract with HdP expires in 2003.

Future projects include the launch of jewelry, watch, innerwear and beachwear collections and a home accessories line in 2003, which will most likely be licensed. The company has cut its licenses from 50 to five. The remaining ones include: Unilever for fragrances; Safilo for eyewear; Ratti for ties and scarves; Hemmond for its denim collections.

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