From Jan. 1, 2001 on, Luxottica will no longer be producing or distributing Yves Saint Laurent eyewear. Opticians have just a few weeks left to put in new orders for the last collection, as the Italian manufacturer will only sell its remaining stock. It had already reduced the production of the line some time ago to focus on Chanel as its top-of-the-range brand.

The present YSL contract with Luxottica expires on Dec. 31. Luxottica's chairman and CEO, Leonardo Del Vecchio, announced to the press earlier this month the failure of negotiations for its renewal with Gucci, the new owner of the YSL brand. ?We knew the brand was incompatible with Chanel, and that we were bound to lose it. Our turnover with Chanel is three times what we do with Yves Saint Laurent,? he stated.

As Gucci already has a very successful licensing deal for the Gucci brand with Safilo, which is a major competitor of Luxottica, there is strong unconfirmed speculation that Gucci has been putting pressure on Safilo to take up the YSL license as its main high fashion brand in place of Christian Dior. However, the Dior license doesn't run out until 2002. After a difficult first year in 1996, Safilo's sales of Dior frames began to take off in 1998. They have been growing since at an annual rate of about 30 percent.

Safilo's management had recently indicated that it wasn't planning on investing on any new brands. Safilo executives are now saying that they are looking at various types of brands, without denying that YSL could be one of them. Most likely, Gucci and Safilo are in for a tough negotiations, with the latter insisting on keeping Dior now that it's working out well.

Nobody knows who will finally secure the coveted YSL and Dior licenses. De Rigo or Marcolin, for example, may put in a bid for the YSL deal, or they may even decide that it's worth paying a high price to wrest Dior away from Safilo.