By and  on January 17, 2008

PARIS — Signaling big plans for Nina Ricci and a new strategic thrust for the Puig Beauty and Fashion Group, Manuel Puig has been named president of Nina Ricci and charged with launching the French brand into the lucrative accessories business.

"We have all the ingredients to play in the luxury goods arena," Puig told WWD. "I see tremendous potential."

Puig, who has more than 20 years experience in the fragrance industry, will remain vice president of the Spanish, family-owned firm, which also controls Carolina Herrera. But he said he would relocate to Paris and devote 90 percent of his time to Ricci, where he will report to Mario Grauso, president of Ricci parent Puig Fashion Group.

In an interview, Grauso said Puig's appointment comes in tandem with other key hires, including Helene Nguyen-Ban, who becomes Ricci's fashion director, a new post. Nguyen-Ban comes from Louis Vuitton, where she was a collection director.

Grauso also tapped Alain Quillet, who had been Christian Dior's deputy managing director in Europe, to become Ricci's new chief operating officer.

Grauso is also said to be zeroing in on other high-caliber design talents to make Ricci a player in the fast-growing handbag, footwear and jewelry categories. All will report to Ricci's artistic director Olivier Theyskens.

"Olivier began the resurrection, and now it's time to take it to the next place. We're really getting focused on this brand," Grauso said. "Accessories are a big project."

He said the first complete accessories collection would be unveiled to the trade in October in tandem with Ricci's spring 2009 runway collection, although a few styles may be included in a pre-spring line being readied for showing to retailers in July.

Theyskens' ready-to-wear studio already designs and produces some shoes for Ricci, but Grauso stressed there would be dedicated teams for footwear, handbags and jewelry, and that accessories could ultimately account for up to a quarter of the brand's revenues.

Handbags would be positioned in line with other designer collections, with retail prices likely to be in the $900 to $6,000 range, he added.

Puig's arrival should bring some stability to the French brand, which has experienced some management turmoil. Puig succeeds Christophe Hebre, who joined Ricci in 2005 from Rochas.For his part, Puig said he relishes the chance to work hands-on in luxury goods, in close collaboration with Grauso. "We are 90 percent a fragrance group and we can move to be a more balanced luxury goods group," he said.

Thanks to the buzz around Theyskens, and ethereal dresses inspired by the L'Air du Temps bottle, Ricci's fragrance business "is taking off again," Puig added.

Puig Beauty and Fashion Group includes — on the prestige fragrance side — brands such as Carolina Herrera Perfumes, Paco Rabanne, Groupe Nina Ricci, Comme des Garçons Parfums and Prada. On the mass market front there are Myrurgia, Perfumeria Gal, Antonio Puig, Antonio Banderas, Barbie and Adolfo Dominguez. Puig's beauty business generated sales of 929 million euros, or $1.17 billion at average exchange, in 2006. That represented a 4 percent rise on 2005.

Meanwhile, Manuel Puig's immediate priority is Ricci's accessories push and retail expansion.

Freestanding Ricci stores are slated to open this year in Tokyo, Moscow and Dubai, and the Paris flagship on Avenue Montaigne is set for a major renovation, reopening with a new Theyskens concept in July. He noted Ricci would look at opening some U.S. locations in 2009.

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