BOSTON — It took five whacks of a Taittingers bottle, and help from a crew member, but Salma Hayek eventually christened Puma’s “Il Mostro” yacht here, part of the sport lifestyle company’s high-profile gambit to enter sailing.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Puma will enter the boat in the Volvo Ocean Race, a 37,000 nautical mile, globe-spanning contest that takes 10 months. The race — and the better-known America’s Cup, a darling of luxury marketers — are sailing’s major events.

Puma hopes the voyage of the 70-foot yacht will help it sell boatloads of performance sailing gear and nautical-inspired lifestyle apparel. The company plans to build combination store-nightclubs in five major ports during the race, as well as launch distribution of a nautical-inspired sport lifestyle collection in department stores.

The German sportswear company, which inked the sailing sponsorship before being purchased by luxury conglomerate PPR last year, is under pressure to trim marketing costs and improve its U.S. sales performance. Sales in the U.S. fell 14.2 percent in the first quarter as net earnings slid 7 percent.

During a waterfront cocktail party Monday at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the South Boston waterfront, Puma chairman and chief executive officer Jochen Zeitz jokingly avoided questions about the boat’s costs (double-digit millions, he eventually said.)

“We will be visible and present around the world for 10 months,” Zeitz said. “The Volvo Ocean Race is much more rock ‘n’ roll, and hence much more Puma, than the America’s Cup.”

With simulated black webbing, stitched red stripe and tread bubbles on its helm, the boat is a mammoth advertisement for “Il Mostro,” Puma’s well-known Velcro shoe.

The race kicks off in October in Alicante, Spain, and will stop over in Boston, the only North American port and the site of Puma’s U.S. headquarters, in 2009.

For Hayek, christening the boat was a family affair. She has a daughter with and is engaged to Henri-François Pinault, ceo of PPR, which owns 64 percent of Puma.

Wearing an Alexander McQueen Prince of Wales plaid coat and skirt, she described the ceremony to unveil and bless the three-story tall yacht as “magical.”

The company named Hussein Chalayan as creative director in February. Zeitz said Chalayan will set direction for 2009 product next week when he has his first meeting with the Puma design team.

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