Byline: Miles Socha / With contributions from Samantha Conti, Milan

PARIS — Another American designer has landed at the helm of an LVMH-owned fashion house.
Emilio Pucci has named Julio Espada the new artistic director of the Florence-based house, charging him with revitalizing a name synonymous with the jet-set lifestyle and expanding its profile in ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories.
Born in Puerto Rico but based in New York for 20-some years, he is best known for his work at Perry Ellis and Marc Jacobs. Most recently, he worked in product design at Esprit International.
Jacobs, who designs for Louis Vuitton, discovered Espada’s signature designs as a young man scouring fashion magazines like American Vogue. Jacobs recalled seeing “glamorous people” wearing his designs at Studio 54 during its heyday.
“I just think he’s one of the most talented people I know. I learned so much from him,” said Jacobs, who worked with Espada at Perry Ellis and when he relaunched his signature collection in the early Nineties. “I really pushed for him to be put in that position. He is a true designer. He’s got an amazing sense of color and he has a great eye for design, for decor and clothes.”
Espada could not immediately be reached for comment as he is in the midst of relocating to Florence, where he will assemble his design team. Previously, the Pucci family collaborated with a number of designers, including Stephan Janson and most recently Antonio Berardi. As reported in WWD, Pucci management, in Dallas recently to collect the Fashion Excellence Award from the International Apparel Mart there, had indicated it would soon name a new designer (see related story on page 15).
LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton acquired a 67 percent stake in Emilio Pucci SRL last February. The Pucci family holds the remaining shares in the firm, which had annual sales last year of about $15 million. At the time, LVMH said it planned to expand the product range and revive such product categories as fragrances, rugs and home accessories.
In hiring Espada, luxury giant LVMH has stepped outside of its usual strategy of hiring a designer with a marquee name, a trend it set in motion in the mid-Nineties by placing the likes of John Galliano at Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen at Givenchy and Jacobs at Louis Vuitton.
But Yves Carcelle, chairman of LVMH’s fashion and leather goods business group, said having a designer solely dedicated to the artistic direction of the Pucci universe is the best strategy for the house.
“We think it’s a great name in the history of fashion,” said Carcelle, reached late Monday in Hong Kong. “Emilio Pucci was a sort of genius who made history. The image of Pucci is so strong, we needed someone who could reinterpret it for today. We try each time to have the perfect match and we feel we have found it.”
Carcelle said the priority for Espada would be to “reinvent” the rtw and expand the assortments in such categories as swimwear and skiwear.
Emilio Pucci began his design career in Florence in 1947, using jersey fabrics to create skiwear. His colorful, graphic prints quickly became the signature of the house and were originally inspired by Renaissance and local Italian art.
The company still uses the silk jersey developed by Pucci some 30 years ago.
“We think the Pucci universe is very rich and we want to develop the collection in a variety of directions, ” said Catherine Vautrin, president and chief executive officer of Pucci. “The job of creative director is more than a full-time job: it means going through the archives, getting involved and understanding the brand.”
“”Pucci is a very special brand and we recognized that Espada has an eclectic background in graphics, art and fashion. After all, he started his career as a sculptor and a painter. We think his collections are fresh, sexy and feminine. His sensibility is close to that of Pucci.”
Vautrin would not elaborate on the terms of Espada’s contract but said “it involves a real, mutual commitment. It is intended to be long-lasting and we’re looking forward to a fruitful relationship.”
Laudomia Pucci, the daughter of the late founder and image director of the firm, characterized Espada’s appointment as an important move for Pucci.
“It was time to have a full-time, in-house creative director, as there is so much work to be done here,” she said. “LVMH has been, as usual, very quick and determined in reacting to the needs of this company.”
Indeed, while LVMH has characterized Pucci as a small company insignificant to its balance sheet, the new owners have forged ahead with a retail expansion that will add up to a “significant number of stores by 2001,” according to Carcelle.
A 1,500-square-foot flagship bowed on Milan’s Via Montenapoleone during the Italian rtw shows at the beginning of this month and new units are slated to bow in December in Palm Beach, Fla., and St. Moritz. Pucci also has freestanding stores in Florence and a shop at 24 East 64th Street in New York. As reported, the company is looking to relocate and expand its Manhattan location and has identified Los Angeles and Las Vegas as priorities for future sites.
And then there is the Internet. Earlier this year, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault announced plans to use his retail Web site as a primary vehicle to sell the Pucci collection and assist in the brand’s revival. He predicted Pucci would ultimately become the “number-one Italian cyberbrand.”
The brand is not yet sold at but is slated to bow there soon, Vautrin said, noting that Italy is the largest market for the Pucci brand, followed by the U.S. Key retail accounts include Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Janet Brown, Stanley Korshak and Jeffrey.
Told the news of Espada’s arrival at the house, Jeffrey owner Jeffrey Kalinsky described it as a positive step for a brand that has long been a top performer in his stores in Atlanta and New York.
“We can’t buy enough of it and what we buy always seems to be a sellout,” he said. “It’s a fabulous name. It seems Pucci prints never go out of style, and they never seem to go out of fashion, either. “
“It’s always been successful,” agreed Janet Brown, who operates a boutique in Port Washington, N.Y., and has carried the Pucci brand for years. “This season we have 90 percent sell-through and I thought the collection for cruise was charming.”

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