Luxury fashion group PPR, which this month set out to buy German sportswear brand Puma, has reported a 5.6% rise in first quarter sales helped by strong growth in its Gucci brand.

Group revenues increased to EUR4.45bn (US$6.05bn), from EUR4.24 in the same period last year. Revenues outside France were up 9.3% and accounted for 57% of the group's total sales.

The increases were slightly ahead of Dow Jones' analysts' expectations.

François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of PPR, said: "In the first quarter, the PPR group successfully pursued its growth and its international expansion. All of the brands of Gucci Group achieved strong growth, once again underscoring the robustness and complementarity of our portfolio of brands."

Sales at the Gucci Group luxury division rose 15.9% on a comparable basis to EUR937m, despite what the company described as "an unfavourable currency impact."

Gucci Group posted double digit growth in all regions, particularly in North America (+16%), China (+87%) and Japan (+10%).

Gucci brand sales increased 10.2% during the quarter, benefiting in particular from strong growth in leather goods, mainly in North America and the Asia-Pacific region excluding Japan, and from the success of its ready-to-wear and footwear collections.

Bottega Veneta was up 55.3% in all product categories and geographical areas, and Yves Saint Laurent sales rose 35.5% in the first quarter, helped by sustained growth in leather goods.

Other brands - Balenciaga, Boucheron, Sergio Rossi, Bedat & Co, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen - were up 22.4%, the group said in a statement.

Results at the Redcats mail order division, however, were less spctacular, with comparable sales falling 5% as the company reduced its catalogue circulation and cut back on promotional activities. Online sales accounting for 39% of mail order sales in the first quarter of 2007.

PPR, which owns brands like Gucci, Alexander Mc Queen and Stella McCartney, tabled a friendly takeover offer for sportswear group Puma on 10 April after agreeing to buy Mayfair Beteiligungsfondsgesellschaft's 27.1% stake in the sportswear firm for EUR330(US$442.7) per share in cash.

If the deal goes through, it values Puma at EUR1.4bn. PPR's offer for the remaining Puma shares is set to open on 15 May.