MADRID – Mariano Puig, who helped transform his family-owned Spanish perfume maker into an international fashion house that includes the Paco Rabanne, Nina Ricci, Carolina Herrera and Jean Paul Gaultier brands, died in Barcelona on April 13th. He was 93 years old.
Puig, the company that bears the family name, confirmed the death.
As a member of the second generation to run the company, Mr. Puig built his overseas presence significantly, particularly in the 1960s when Puig opened offices in the United States and formed an alliance with Mr. Rabanne, a Spanish fashion designer whose celebrity status in Paris gave Puig better access to the French market.
Puig eventually took over Paco Rabanne and other major brands. One of Mr Puig’s five children, Marc Puig, is the current chairman and managing director of the company, which was founded in 1914 by Mariano Puig’s father, Antonio.
In 2019, Puig achieved sales of around 2 billion euros or 2.4 billion US dollars. It’s one of the few big fashion companies still owned by its original family in a luxury goods sector dominated by conglomerates like Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
Mariano Puig Planas was born in Barcelona on December 8, 1927. His father at the time imported and sold products and materials such as rubber, perfumes and books. His mother, Júlia Planas, was a housewife.
In his youth, Mariano was a member of the Spanish water ski team and won national championships twice. He graduated from the Sarrià Chemical Institute in Barcelona in 1949 and studied at the IESE Business School in the 1950s shortly after it opened there. Today it is one of the two leading international business schools in Barcelona alongside Esade.
Antonio Puig lost his business when a German submarine sank a ship with an uninsured shipload of his goods at the beginning of the First World War. After starting over, he introduced the first lipstick made in Spain under the brand name Milady in 1922.
After the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Antonio Puig consolidated his perfume business by selling a lavender-scented eau de cologne called Agua Lavanda. Cologne, developed with the French perfumer Segal, became a major seller in Spain.
From the 1950s, Antonio Puig gradually passed control to his four sons and died in 1979. Mariano Puig joined the company as a chemical engineer while studying.
He was the second oldest son and the one most determined to grow the company overseas. “Spain was small and closed, and that made me think about what we wanted to do and be,” he said, according to an excerpt from a book that Puig published on the occasion of the company’s 100th anniversary.
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April 21, 2021, 3:24 p.m. ET
Mr. Puig acquired the rights to distribute well-known foreign brands in Spain at a time when the country was under military dictatorship. With his wife María Guasch he traveled to Los Angeles to sign a contract with Max Factor for the distribution of his cosmetics in Spain.
Mr Puig’s greatest coup was to convince Mr Rabanne, the fashion designer, to diversify – to add perfumery to his haute couture lines – and to work with Puig, who at the time only had about 50 employees. Shortly after agreeing to a fragrance joint venture in 1968, the two men were at dinner when Mr. Rabanne sketched the outline of the United Nations building in New York on a paper tablecloth. The drawing became the design for the bottle of their first successful perfume called Calandre. Puig eventually took over the entire business from Mr. Rabanne, including his fashion house.
Mr. Puig followed a similar path with Carolina Herrera, the Venezuelan fashion designer who had become famous in New York in the 1980s. They founded a perfume brand together before Puig also took over her fashion house in 1995.
Mr. Puig was the company’s managing director until 1998 and then chairman of Exea, the holding company over which his Puig family controlled, for another five years.
He was a proponent of the family business and helped found the Spanish Institute for Family Business in Barcelona. José Luis Blanco, its general manager, paid tribute to Mr Puig as a key player in the overhaul of Spanish industry, which had been torn by the civil war and lacked funds from the Marshall Plan after World War II.
Together with several other business leaders of his generation, Mr. Puig succeeded in “transforming this nation from ruins into the modern and dynamic country that we have today,” said Mr. Blanco.
Together with his son Marc, Mr. Puig is survived by his wife; a brother, José María; four other children, Marian, Ana, Ton and Daniel; and nine grandchildren.
As one of the most famous business tycoons in Barcelona, Mr. Puig helps fund several local art foundations and museums as well as IESE.
He wanted to stay away from politics and regretted the decades-long conflict of secession in Catalonia, which peaked in 2017 when the Catalan regional government made a failed attempt to declare an independent Catalan republic with Barcelona as its capital.
In a letter published earlier this year in La Vanguardia, the Barcelona-based newspaper, Mr Puig wrote: “I feel very Catalan, I feel very Spanish and I have a deep love for my city. But recently we’ve seen a contradiction that can only make me sad. “