Versace sees good start to 2014 after sales rise 17 pct in past year

MILAN, March 27 Thu Mar 27, 2014 11:12am EDT

MILAN, March 27 (Reuters) - Italian fashion house Versace said on Thursday it had started 2014 on a strong footing thanks to a double-digit rise in sales from its own shops in the first quarter, following a 19 percent increase for the whole of 2013.

Total revenue at the luxury group, which plans an eventual stock market listing after the recent sale of a stake to U.S. private equity group Blackstone, rose 17 percent last year to 479 million euros ($660 million).

Core earnings rose nearly 60 percent to 71 million euros once adjusted for currency effects, it said in a statement.

Versace said sales at shops it manages directly rose by nearly a third in the United States, adding to a strong performance in 2012, and by 18 percent in Asia. Direct sales accounted for nearly 56 percent of last year's total.

The group, which returned to profit in 2011, last month agreed to sell a 20 percent stake to Blackstone for 210 million euros to fund expansion.

Versace, which competes with the likes of Kering's Gucci, said it had invested 24 million euros last year to boost its retail and e-commerce presence. It plans to double the contribution from its e-commerce business this year.

"The main engine of the company's growth continues to be the Versace Prima Linea (high-end collection), which accounts for 60 percent of overall sales," it said. ($1 = 0.7254 Euros) (Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by David Holmes)