The leather-encased Gucci by Gucci, a collection of photographs commemorating the Italian firm's 85 years of star-studded glamour, is missing the image of one key player: Tom Ford. Before his high-profile departure two years ago, the charismatic designer not only brought Gucci back to the heart of fashion, but set a template for other brands. The company has thrived since Ford left, however--posting a 21 percent increase in sales for the first half of 2006. The underlying truth is that selling luxury today is not about who designs the products, but managing the brand. Mark Lee, 44, Gucci's CEO and the architect of its current growth, says he is "totally focused" on high-end goods made in Italy, but he cites other categories where he perceives future growth. One is ready-to-wear--currently about 15 percent of the business but growing fast--which enjoyed a 29 percent increase so far this year. Another is fragrance, after Gucci signed a recent deal with Procter & Gamble. Lee believes it will be as successful a partnership as the sunglasses with Safilo. "There is still a mystique about the designer," Lee says. "But at the end of the day, the brand is king."
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