Byline: Samantha Conti / Sarah Raper

FLORENCE, Italy — Jet-setter luxury brand Pucci plans to rocket into cyberspace this year with help from LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault. Pucci customers will soon be able to dock in Capri, pull into Palm Beach or just click on to the Internet for a fix of psychedelic prints.
“Pucci will be the number-one Italian cyber-brand,” Arnault predicted during a news conference Wednesday in the Baroque ballroom of the Pucci palazzo here. “Selling on the Web will accelerate the brand’s revival and complement sales in Pucci boutiques.”
Arnault and Laudomia Pucci, chairman and creative director of the house, outlined an unusual retail strategy that downplays bricks and mortar in favor of, LVMH’s retail Web site that will bow next month in the U.S. The site will include LVMH brands as well as others, like Ferragamo and Bulgari.
“The Net is becoming what Duty Free used to be,” said Pucci, daughter of the late designer Emilio Pucci, who founded the Florence-based fashion house in 1951.
As reported in these columns, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton purchased a 67 percent stake in Emilio Pucci SRL in February. The Pucci family controls the remaining 33 percent. The price of the transaction was not disclosed, although reliable industry sources said LVMH paid approximately $20 million for its stake in the company. Pucci said the company posted sales of $15 million last year.
Arnault told the audience of European business journalists and Italian nobles that LVMH would invest “several million dollars” in getting Pucci online and in a new network of boutiques.
The Pucci deal is LVMH’s second partnership in Italy after taking a joint stake with Prada Group in Fendi last year. Unlike some of Arnault’s past hostile acquisitions, both Italian deals have been friendly, with LVMH acting in partnership with the founding families.
The LVMH chief also fielded questions about his negotiations with Giorgio Armani. Last week, the designer’s managing director and right-hand man, Pino Brusone, resigned abruptly, apparently after clashing with Armani about future strategies for the Milan fashion house.
“Armani is a fantastic designer and an extraordinary businessman. I often talk with him, and would like to do something with him, but I do not have the impression that he wants to sell at this time,” Arnault said.
Laudomia Pucci, meanwhile, said selling on the Internet has long been one of her dreams. “Personally, I have no time to shop, and when I do, I never seem to get to the stores in time. By the time March comes around, it seems the spring clothing is already gone. This will be a service for busy people.”
Pucci said she envisions women coming home in the evening, having a cocktail with their husbands or friends, and shopping at their leisure on the Web. “Of course, women won’t be able to buy everything on the Web. I don’t see them buying evening gowns. But some products have a place, and we’re even thinking of making designs exclusively for the Internet,” she said.
LVMH and Pucci are also forging ahead with a traditional retail strategy. Arnault said he foresees small Pucci stores in the key resorts where Pucci made its name in the Fifties and Sixties, including Capri, St. Moritz and Gstaad.
“The London and Paris boutiques will come, but not tomorrow,” Arnault said. “We want Pucci to be rediscovered at its traditional locations.”
Pucci later added that a 750-square-foot store would open on Milan’s Via Montenapoleone in September, in the courtyard next to the Louis Vuitton boutique. The two companies also plan to open offices and a warehouse in Milan.
Over the next 18 months, Pucci added, another store will open in Palm Beach, Fla. “The U.S. is our second largest market, so of course it’s going to be a priority on the retail side,” Pucci said.
Pucci already has two freestanding stores in Florence and a shop at 24 East 64th Street in New York.
Arnault also confirmed reports in these columns Tuesday that Catherine Vautrin would become managing director of Pucci, the second woman within LVMH to rise to such a position. Marianne Tessler, a former Nike executive, is the head of Givenchy. Vautrin is the former director of ready-to-wear at Louis Vuitton.