By  on June 5, 2006

Gucci fashion has long been controversial, and its beauty business no less so.

The brand’s sexy fragrances, cosmetics and advertising have whipped up a lather of excitement in a marketplace where most play it safe. And Gucci’s beauty license itself has been a point of contention, since it isn’t owned by Gucci AG — the fashion arm of parent PPR — and therefore cannot be run by YSL Beauté, PPR’s beauty division. (See related story, opposite page.)

Gucci’s fragrance and cosmetics license has been overseen by Procter & Gamble, based in Cincinnati, since March 2003, when it was purchased through Wella AG alongside myriad other beauty licenses, such as Lacoste, Rochas and Escada, then also owned by the German company. At that time, Gucci was said to be the top beauty brand in Wella’s prestige fragrance arm, Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, where it outpaced Escada and Rochas, which ranked second and third, respectively.

(Prior to that, on April 1, 2002, Wella snapped up the Gucci license through a deal with Escada AG’s beauty division, Escada Beauté Group SA.)

Today, industry sources estimate the Gucci beauty brand at more than $840 million in sales worldwide. In a WWD interview last summer, Hartwig Langer, global president of P&G Prestige Products, said P&G considers Gucci to be among its main growth drivers.

“Without any question, Gucci and Valentino are global brands,” he said.

Yet, what strategy its products and marketing will follow under P&G guidance is still under wraps. The company would not contribute to this story.

But financial analysts say they wonder if Gucci skin care might be on the horizon.

“If it plans to do it, the question is whether the existing number of company-owned doors is enough,” or whether Gucci would have to set up department store counters, said one analyst, who requested anonymity. “And that’s riddled with expansion issues.”

Further, scent — which generates the lion’s share of Gucci’s beauty business — is a risky category.

Like the Gucci fashion image, the brand’s beauty image was shaped by Tom Ford during his tenure as creative director. Ford’s impact went far beyond cosmetics. He did more than help give Gucci a makeover — he made it controversial again.

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