Byline: Miles Socha

PARIS — And now for something completely different
Famous for hiring British designers, American designers and occasionally obscure designers, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton has chosen one of its in-house stars, Christian Lacroix, to become the new creative head of Pucci, WWD has learned.
According to sources, the French luxury giant will soon announce that its baroque couturier will apply his celebrated eye for color and pattern to Pucci, a label famous for its graphic prints, vivid palette and jet-set attitude. It is understood that Lacroix will continue to design his couture, signature and diffusion lines as well.
The move will surely bring heightened attention to Pucci, which has had a rocky time on the road to rejuvenation since LVMH bought 67 percent of the Italian company for a reported $20 million in 2000. It also should boost Lacroix, whose 15-year-old business is almost as famous for losing money as for its pouf skirts.
As reported in these columns Tuesday, Pucci designer Julio Espada is exiting the house after three collections that failed to spark a renaissance and were criticized for being too sober. Espada, a virtual unknown when he arrived at Pucci in October 2000, had been a behind-the-scenes designer at such firms as Esprit, Perry Ellis and Marc Jacobs.
By contrast, Lacroix is one of France’s most beloved designers, whose clients and devotees greet practically every outfit that comes down his couture runway with applause. Born in Arles 50 years ago, Lacroix is famous for lavish ornamentation, romantic silhouettes and a lusty, Mediterranean attitude that draws inspiration from gypsies and his native south of France.
But his rich vision has not been easy to translate into a commercial success and the house has struggled to ignite its ready-to-wear and diffusion businesses. Since LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault plucked Lacroix from the house of Jean Patou and set up a couture atelier for him in 1987, the house has lost large amounts of money, as much as $10 million per year in the early Nineties. His first fragrance, C’est La Vie, cast as a bridge to profits when it was launched in 1994, was a colossal flop. The house hopes Lacroix’s latest fragrances, under the Bazar masterbrand, will change its fortunes. LVMH does not provide revenue or earnings figures for its individual brands, but it is believed Lacroix is approaching profitability.
Lacroix could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Some might question whether Lacroix’s artistic, highly decorated vision will translate to a house like Pucci, which has had a reputation for modernity. Emilio Pucci, who died in 1992, was an Italian nobleman who got his start in the fashion business in 1947 when a photographer sent snapshots of Pucci wearing a ski suit he designed to Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. The brand became an icon in the Sixties for its wild, swirling and brilliant heraldic prints on silk jersey. Pucci even designed stewardess uniforms and the logo for the Apollo 15 launch.
But Lacroix has shown he has a high tech side, too. In 1999, he shocked the couture establishment with a computer-inspired collection that was marked by sharp cuts, jolts of color and abstract prints. “I am tired of being considered a toreador, the nostalgic couturier who’s obsessed with Spain and Arles and who spends all his time poking around attics and visiting fashion museums,” he told WWD in an interview that year. “I collect Contemporary Art. I’m interested in technology. I love these things too much not to show [them] in my collections.”
Since then, Lacroix has found a way to balance his modernity with opulence and sentiment, but it is believed Pucci will be an additional outlet for his graphic ideas.
With an eye to succession, Pucci had quietly approached several designers over the past few months, including Jerome L’Huillier and Francisco Costa, who recently joined Calvin Klein as design director on its women’s collection, sources said. It is believed Belgian designer Dries Van Noten, no slouch with color and print himself, was also considered for the Pucci post by LVMH.
Before Espada, designers including Stephan Janson and most recently Antonio Berardi had collaborated with the Pucci family on the collection. Reached Tuesday, Laudomia Pucci, Emilio Pucci’s daughter and the image director of the house, declined all comment.
LVMH bought Florence-based Pucci in October 2000 with plans to revitalize the brand in ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories and revive such categories as fragrances, rugs and home accessories. Last year, chairs and sofas produced by Cappellini were introduced.

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