PARIS — Aided by lusty demand for skiwear, handbags and pink-logo items in the holiday run-up, Christian Dior Couture saw its fourth-quarter sales leap 11 percent to $184 million versus $165.1 million a year ago.

This story first appeared in the January 22, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The leap in sales at Dior is an additional sign of the long-awaited rebound in the luxury goods sector. Further evidence came Wednesday as Coach Inc. reported a 52.9 percent jump in profits and a 33.4 percent rise in sales for the second quarter ending Dec. 27, 2003.

Excluding the impact of currency, Dior sales in the period grew 20 percent.

Speaking of the results, Dior president Sidney Toledano said in an interview Wednesday, “All regions were excellent. In November and December, we had 30 percent growth at constant rates. The momentum of the brand is very strong.”

Dior reported sales of 146 million euros versus 131 million euros a year ago. Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange.

Hit by the war in Iraq and SARS in the first half, and then weak tourism and a heat wave in the third quarter, the French fashion and accessories house saw market conditions improve as the year drew to a close.

In December, sales in local currencies leaped 33 percent in the U.S., 40 percent in Japan, 44 percent in the rest of Asia and 35 percent in Europe, with Italy and the U.K. showing a marked pickup. Toledano allowed that France remains the weakest link in Europe, but noted that sales in Paris increased 8 percent last month (December).

By category and at constant exchange, women’s ready-to-wear by John Galliano advanced 26 percent in the fourth quarter, while women’s footwear rocketed 80 percent for the full year. Toledano also cited strong sales of the firm’s Hardcore, Latest Blonde and Lady Dior handbag ranges, as well as men’s wear and fine jewelry, particularly in Japan.

French companies report sales and earnings separately. However, Toledano noted that Dior’s operating income for the year would rise more than 20 percent and reiterated that the house would maintain such margins as it shoots for $1 billion-plus in volume by 2007. Price increases last year and tight cost controls have boosted margins.

For the year, sales rose 6 percent to $659 million, or 523 million euros, from $619.9 million, or 492 million euros, a year ago.

Christian Dior Couture comprises couture, women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and accessories businesses, plus its retail network. Sales of beauty products and fragrance, already in excess of $1 billion, come under the perfumes and cosmetics division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Dior opened 15 stores or leased departments in 2003, ending the year with 159 locations. Toledano said the firm would add “at least” another 15 locations this year, including freestanding stores in Waikiki, Hawaii, and Paris’ Rue Royale in the first half, along with a Dior Homme unit, showcasing the designs of Hedi Slimane, within the Dior flagship in New York on 57th Street in March.

A major flagship in the Ginza district in Tokyo is slated to open in early fall. Last month, Dior christened a 10,760-square-foot flagship on Ometesando, drawing a crowd of more than 1,000 shoppers on opening day.

“We are confident in 2004,” Toledano said. “If there is no disaster, no terror problem or SARS, it should be a good year. The market is responding very well.”

LVMH, Dior’s sister company, is expected to report its fourth-quarter and full-year sales today. Analysts are forecasting a 6 to 7 percent decline in full-year sales on a reported basis.

Industry executives and analysts have been hoping for a turnaround in the luxury goods sector for two years, but believe 2004 could finally see it. Many predict the days of double-digit sales growth could be back as consumers begin to travel again and loosen their purse strings — provided there are no major blows like SARS or another terrorist attack. The only concern in the short-term is the strength of the euro against the dollar, which is eroding margins for many luxury goods companies and may cause them to raise prices later this year.