NEW YORK — Last week marked the end of an era at Unilever.

Paulanne Mancuso stepped down as president and chief executive of Unilever Cosmetics International. Until a successor is appointed, Charles Strauss will be responsible for the operation of the UCI business, which reports to him in his role as business group president.

New York-based UCI makes fragrances including Calvin Klein, Cerruti, Lagerfeld, Valentino, Chloé, Vera Wang, Nautica and BCBG Max Azria and is part of the Dutch-Anglo consumer goods giant Unilever PLC.

Mancuso’s decision to resign "was strictly a personal one," according to a spokeswoman. "While it is difficult to predict exactly when a successor will be named, we expect the process to move relatively quickly." She added that UCI has performed in line with plan, despite weak market conditions.

A 19-year veteran of Unilever, Mancuso is perhaps best known for the 1994 blockbuster launch of Calvin Klein’s CKOne. She was promoted to president of UCI after her tenure at Klein, where she also oversaw the introduction of a color cosmetics line. Lately though, the Klein business has faced challenges: the 2002 launch of Crave failed to live up to expectations while the company recently pulled the plug on the color line. Color cosmetics were less than 4 percent of UCI’s total Klein sales, which sources place at $500 million.

There have been widespread industry reports that Unilever is looking to divest itself of the Klein business. In January 2001, Unilever sold the Elizabeth Arden brand to what was then known as FFI.

UCI has had its successes, as well. The 2002 spring unveiling of Vera Wang was deemed one of the most successful launches of a year marked by tepid fragrance sales across the industry.

On Friday, Unilever reported a 57.6 percent jump in its overall earnings to $750.4 million, or 74 cents a diluted share, despite lower-than-expected sales and difficult trading climates in Europe and North America. This compared with year-ago earnings of $476 million, or 46 cents. Turnover for the three months ended March 29 dropped 3.7 percent to $12.46 billion from $12.94 billion, due to a 7 percent drop in sales in Europe and a 9 percent dip in North America.Dollar figures are converted at current exchange rates.

"We have seen a slower-than-expected start to the year in terms of sales," said N.W.A. FitzGerald, chairman of Unilever, in a statement. "In addition to a later Easter, we faced a number of short-term developments in the business environment in the latter part of the quarter." FitzGerald said those factors affected Unilever’s food divisions as well as regions including Europe and North America.

The statement said food sales were flat against last year, while sales at the home and personal care division rose 6.8 percent. Sales of Unilever’s leading brands rose 3 percent in the period. Emerging markets performed better than traditional ones. In Africa, the Middle East and Turkey, turnover was 11 percent ahead of last year, in Asia, it was 2 percent ahead, while in Latin America, turnover was 6 percent ahead.

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