PARIS — Puig, considered a front-runner in the race to acquire Jean Paul Gaultier, can now trumpet its improving track record in fashion: Sales in that division — comprised primarily of Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci — gained 25 percent last year.

This story first appeared in the April 12, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Releasing select 2010 financial data on Monday, the Barcelona-based fragrance and fashion group said net profits vaulted 57 percent to 130 million euros, or $172.6 million, as total revenues climbed 22 percent to 1.20 billion euros, or $1.60 billion.

Operating profits, or earnings before interest and taxes, rose 89 percent to 184 million euros, or $244.3 million. Dollar figures are converted at an average exchange rate for the calendar year.

The company did not provide any figures for 2011, but said sales grew 22 percent in the first quarter and that it is gunning to surpass sales of 1.3 billion euros this year.

Puig has recently become a more aggressive — and international — player, last year acquiring the worldwide license for Valentino fragrances. Puig also counts Comme des Garçons Parfums, Prada Parfums and Payot among names in its prestige portfolio. Last year, it also launched fragrances for Adolfo Dominguez, Antonio Banderas and Shakira.

According to Monday’s data, Puig now controls 7 percent of the global prestige perfume business, up from 3.7 percent in 2005.

Marc Puig, chairman and chief executive officer of family-owned Puig, declined all comment Monday on the sale process for Gaultier.

However, elaborating on its 2010 business, he told WWD that Paco Rabanne “has been a key driver for the past few years” thanks to the men’s scent 1 Million, launched in 2008 and followed up last year with a successful feminine counterpart: Lady Million.

Rabanne is reactivating its fashion activity, and this fall will stage a runway show for the first ready-to-wear collection designed by its new creative director, Manish Arora. Earlier this year, Rabanne introduced limited edition handbags based on an iconic style from 1969.

Other key fragrance launches that contributed to 2010 growth were Herrera’s 212 VIP, Ricci’s L’Elixir de Nina and Infusion d’Iris by Prada. Of the latter franchise, Puig said, “We think it has tremendous potential going forward.”

International sales now account for 75 percent of Puig revenues versus 62 percent five years ago.

While Spain remains Puig’s main market, its importance has shrunk to a quarter of sales, down from 38 percent in 2005.

Growth in Spain was muted last year, with revenues up 2 percent, while Puig described robust growth “across the board” in the rest of Europe and emerging markets. The company, marking its centennial year in 2014, distributes its products in more than 130 countries.

As reported, Puig is said to be in exclusive negotiations to acquire the 45 percent stake in Gaultier owned by Hermès International, and possibly from the founding designer himself.

Meanwhile, Shiseido and Fung Capital declined to comment Monday on speculation in Europe that the two firms had joined forces to bid for Gaultier. Beauté Prestige International, a subsidiary of Shiseido, currently holds the lucrative fragrance license for the couturier.

Inter Parfums SA is also frequently cited as a contender for Gaultier, but chief executive officer Philippe Benacin said Monday: “We are not on the short list of companies in the bidding process. But if bidding were opened up, we would definitely be interested. It’s a great company. Although we do not currently have a presence in fashion, the fragrance and fashion worlds are very closely linked, so it would make sense.”

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