A Team: Picasso and Rafael Lopez-Cambil

Times Staff Writer

"People sometimes ask, 'can I touch you,' " Paloma Picasso said. She blushed to tell it but seemed pleased. At Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, she and her business partner-husband, Rafael Lopez- Cambil, attended a luncheon served beside a display of leather handbags, suede gauntlets and enormous silk scarfs from her first fashion accessory collection.

"She's becoming an empire," Lopez-Cambil confided, taking some credit for it. "I brought her ambition."

"It's true, I would never have dared," Picasso agreed. A tiny woman known for the bold, red lipstick she always wears, as well as her schoolgirl giggle, she often spoke in unfinished sentences that she let her husband complete or sometimes interrupt.

He's her manager and coaches her like she's a star. Once when she mentioned her famous artist father, Pablo, whom she refers to simply as Picasso, Lopez-Cambil quickly interrupted.

"Her biggest challenge has been to create a strong identity for herself, and show that she is not going on her father's name," he said, adding, "I made the rules."

The rules still apply: no questions by the press about Picasso's father, no reference to his work in photographs of her, no mention of him in promotional material about her career.

It looks as if the formula is working. With the leather goods collection, a new china pattern for Villeroy & Boch of Germany, sunglasses introduced in Europe last summer, a fragrance collection and the jewelry she designs exclusively for Tiffany, Paloma Picasso's empire has soared toward the $50-million mark, most of it in fragrance sales.

Next, she and Lopez-Cambil say, they'll open their own boutiques in Europe. But she swears she'll never design clothes. "Everybody expects that, so we won't do it," she explained. Another giggle, and the conspirator's delight in her eyes.

Yves Saint Laurent, the French couturier, introduced Picasso to Lopez-Cambil in 1971 when he was writing plays and producing them in Paris.

"I used to be the star, now I've become the husband of. . . ." he said. But his next campaign might well be to change that. The new company he and she formed has his name on it too--Paloma Picasso for Lopez-Cambil Ltd. "I want my friends to know I am serious," he explained.

Along with managing her public image, Lopez-Cambil helps write the company catalogues and other press material and oversees distribution of products. She says her part is easier: "I have the most fun, I do the designing."

Some women collect Picasso's bold-scale jewelry or her fragrance bottles that resemble modern sculpture. Her new handbags may be unusual enough to become collector's items too. Some have gold fittings designed after Picasso jewelry, or handles that fit snugly round the wrist.

"My father's things belong in museums, but I'm against that for mine," she said. "Mine are meant to move on a woman, and live.

"Fashion is culture, not art," Lopez-Cambil added.

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