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Designer to the stars Fausto Puglisi aims out of this world

By Isla Binnie

MILAN (Reuters) - Fausto Puglisi's elaborately embroidered dresses have been worn by Madonna and will be featured alongside titans of Italian fashion at London's Victoria & Albert museum this year, but his ambitions for his young brand are as grand as his designs.

Puglisi got his big break in 2010 when Dolce & Gabbana invited him to sell his clothes in their shop in Milan, and he opened his first monobrand store in Rome last year.

Now he wants to distribute his bejewelled bodices, printed blouses and flared skirts all over the world.

"I want to be huge. I want to be on Mars," the tattooed 37 year-old told Reuters as he waited for delivery of his autumn-winter collection ahead of his second catwalk show in Milan after a 2013 debut at the city's biannual women's fashion week.

Born in Sicily, Puglisi went to New York aged 18 and worked as a waiter before he met stylists Patti Wilson and Arianne Phillips, who introduced their clients Whitney Houston and Madonna to a capsule collection he had made in Italy.

When Madonna chose to wear Puglisi, fellow Sicilian designer Domenico Dolce and his partner Stefano Gabbana took notice.

"Puglisi is a typical Sicilian name...it's like Smith in London," Puglisi chuckled. "Domenico Dolce kept asking: who is this Puglisi?"

Being chosen by the Milan-based duo to appear at a star-studded showcase for new designers eventually provided Puglisi with the two essentials for any fledgling fashion business: publicity and investment.

"The great thing about this project is that they really supported all the designers by buying the collection," Puglisi said. "It's not just visibility, it's money as well...to make beauty you need money."

Proud of his Italian roots, Puglisi says Italian fashion buyers supported him from the beginning. But he bemoans the lack of organized promotion for an industry which Italy's national chamber of fashion estimates will earn 65 billion euros ($89.07 billion)in 2014.

"It's insane that in Italy we still don't have a museum of fashion. We had to wait for the V&A (London's Victoria & Albert Museum) to do the glamour of Italian fashion and here what we do? Nothing."

INDEPENDENT

The search for funds has led many fashion brands to sell stakes to private equity firms or industrial groups.

Among the other names on show at "The Glamour of Italian Fashion" at the V&A from April 5, Gianfranco Ferre and Valentino have been bought by Dubai and Qatari investors respectively, while Gucci and Fendi are owned by French luxury groups Kering and LVMH respectively.

The brand founded by Gianni Versace, whom Puglisi describes as his "maestro", is selling a minority stake.

But Puglisi has no current plans to accept outside investment that would oblige him to give up some control of the business, which he estimates will make a profit of 10 million euros ($13.7 million) in 2014.

"There are many people that would like to invest and at the moment I am just listening. I want to be independent."

This independence extends beyond creative control.

"I supervise everything. It's very important to have a creative vision, but also an entrepreneurial vision," Puglisi said. "I'm the first one to say: What's going on with the clothes? What's the bestseller? What do women want?"

As well as his namesake brand, Puglisi is creative director for French label Emanuel Ungaro, which floundered after its founding designer retired in 2004 and horrified fashionistas by hiring Lindsay Lohan as an artistic adviser in 2010.

"Fausto is (my) son, but Ungaro is a challenge," said Puglisi, who presented his first collection in March last year for Ungaro, after it signed a license agreement with Italy's Aeffe Group as part of a bid to revive the label.

"In only one year Ungaro is at Harrod's, Selfridges, Barneys, Saks....the best shops in the world. I started with Aeffe Group to rebuild this brand and for me it's still nothing because I want to create a monster and I will do that."

($1 = 0.7298 euros)

(Editing by Michael Roddy/Mark Heinrich)

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