The French Solution

Yves Saint Laurent reaches for the essence, which is financial

AT FIRST BLUSH, IT SEEMS AN ODD MARRIAGE: YVES Saint Laurent, the high priest of Parisian chic, selling his financially burdened empire to France's pharmaceuticals and beauty-products company Elf Sanofi, itself a division of the state-owned petrochemical giant Elf Aquitaine. Look again. Elf Sanofi already owns such perfume brands as Oscar de la Renta, Van Cleef & Arpels and a share in Nina Ricci. The addition of YSL will create the world's third largest beauty-products group -- behind France's L'Oreal and Estee Lauder in the U.S.

The scent of recession permeating high fashion had left YSL with rising debt and shriveling...

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