The goal is to take sales of its new Yves Saint Laurent line of eyewear up to the same level as those of its Christian Dior collection, which now represents about 10-12 percent of Safilo's total sales. Gucci has the lion's share with 20 percent of the group's turnover.

With its organic growth and the addition of the YSL brand, Safilo's turnover and its actual value could well increase over the next 2-3 years to a level that would make it attractive enough for Safilo's chairman, Vittorio Tabacchi, to cash out again, with a capital gain on the price of e12.5 a share that he has paid to take the company out of the stockmarket, preventing Gucci from acquiring a financial stake. An annual sales increase of 20-25 percent could well lead to a new public offering around 2005.

The results reached by Safilo last year encourage this optimistic scenario. Sales grew by 23.3 percent in 2001 to e845 million, generating a 28 percent higher operating profit of e125 million. The net profit actually jumped by 41 percent to e70 million, representing an 8.28 percent margin.

The sports eyewear segment of Safilo's business suffered the most from the sequels of the Sept. 11 attacks, with Smith's sales plunging by 30-40 percent in the 4th quarter. The drop evened out at 3-4 percent over the entire 12-month period of 2001, and Carrera and Smith both made a strong recovery in the first quarter of 2002.

Tabacchi has taken great care to place the Dior and YSL brands under separate management. They will each have their own development teams, their own production lines and independent sales networks. Customers will be served by two different sales reps, one for YSL and another for Dior. Officials of LVMH recently indicated that they agreed to extend the Dior license for Safilo, despite its privileged relations with De Rigo and the possible conflict of interests with YSL, because they had obtained sufficient guarantees and because only Safilo had the necessary production capacity.

Meanwhile, Safilo has named a new CEO, Roberto Vedovotto, who comes from Morgan Stanley. Working together with the present CEO, Giannino Lorenzon, he will be responsible for corporate finance and new business development.