Byline: Miles Socha

PARIS — When Bernard Arnault, chairman of luxury giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, first made overtures to buy the Florentine house of Emilio Pucci about two years ago, Christian Lacroix felt a pang of desire.
“I thought, ‘Oh, what a happy guy the one who will be in charge of that,” he recalled Thursday. “And now it’s me. I’m very happy. It’s a wonderful gift for the 15th anniversary [of the house of Lacroix.]”
LVMH announced Thursday that the star couturier is now the new artistic director of Pucci, confirming a report in WWD on Wednesday. Lacroix said he will soon begin work on the runway collection he will show October in Milan. He also will continue to design for his own house, which produces couture, ready-to-wear and diffusion lines, plus accessories and home items.
Lacroix said he’s long admired Pucci and, in fact, did a homage to the Italian house in his Christian Lacroix Luxe collection in 1988 that was so literal, he asked for the blessing of Laudomia Pucci, the daughter of Emilio and still the image director of the 55-year-old fashion house. Of course, she said yes.
Modest as he is, Lacroix acknowledged he is an ideal choice for the house. “I think it’s so coherent because I am from the south [of France], because I’m a color lover and a prints lover,” he said. “Even in the Nineties, when everyone was minimalist and Zen, I couldn’t help but do colors and prints.”
Considering Pucci an intrinsically modern house, Lacroix said he will continue taking it in a contemporary direction and he’s excited by the prospect of expanding the brand to such “lifestyle” categories as rugs, fragrance and furnishings.
Accessories will no doubt be a priority, too. According to sources, Pucci officials have had conversations with the design team of Richard Lambertson and John Truex. The designers could not immediately be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, retailers praised the Lacroix move and said it will bring new gusto to a brand that already has great resonance with consumers.
“Bravo,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “I think he’s a brilliant designer and what he does best is color and prints. It should be a home run. What I found wrong with the [Pucci] collection was the colors were always off.”
“I like this idea,” agreed Janet Brown, who owns an eponymous boutique in Port Washington, N.Y., and carries the line. “It could be the shot in the arm they both need. I hope it’s going to be a great marriage. People love Pucci. You put on a silk Pucci shirt and a pair of white pants and you can go anywhere.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, who operates Jeffrey boutiques in New York and Atlanta, said the brand is selling extremely well this spring and Lacroix’s arrival should only boost its potential. “He’s just wildly talented and he has such a huge image. Certainly, it’s going to bring a lot of attention to the brand,” he said. “People will be watching to see what he does with it.”
Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandising at Barneys New York, said the Pucci collection has performed at retail under its previous designers, who included Antonio Berardi and, most recently, Julio Espada, who exited the company last week. But she said she expects Lacroix to do a bang-up job. “He’s such a great designer and he probably understands the je-ne-sais-quoi of Pucci,” she said. “He certainly brings a wealth of experience to the table. Pucci is very playful and that’s what Lacroix is, too.”
According to LVMH, expanding the number of Pucci boutiques is a key part of the development plan for the business, including a location on Avenue Montaigne slated to bow April 27. At present, there are Pucci boutiques in such cities as New York, Milan, Florence and Bangkok.
Commenting on the appointment, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault said in a statement that “the arrival of a great, world-renowned designer will be a catalyst to the dynamic development of this prestigious brand.” LVMH bought 67 percent of Emilio Pucci for a reported $20 million in 2000. At the time, its sales were estimated at about $11 million.

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