We tend to forget, in our obsession with designer moves , that upheaval in the executive suite is equally disruptive, and potentially meaningful, when it comes to reshaping the fashion we see and wear.
Success for a brand often depends on the unpredictable alchemy of the designer/chief executive relationship. And though recently there has been a lot of movement on the creative side (on Tuesday, it was announced that Danielle Sherman had resigned as creative director of Edun, making her the seventh designer to leave a brand after a single three-year term since last summer), it’s important to note that it has been matched by shake-ups in the C-suite.
Change at the top is normal in a downturn like the one high-end fashion is experiencing, with growth projected at a mere 2 to 3 percent this year (“When things are tough … you change management. It’s the same as in football,” said Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas). Nonetheless, the corporate reshuffle currently underway is pretty dramatic. To wit:
On Monday, Versace announced that Gian Giacomo Ferraris, its chief executive since 2009, would be replaced by Jonathan Akeroyd, the former chief executive of Alexander McQueen.
Mr. Ferraris was widely credited with getting Versace into shape for a much-discussed, maybe-possible I.P.O., and during his tenure Blackstone became the company’s first outside minority investor.
Mr. Akeroyd, who had been at McQueen for more than a decade and had a very close relationship with its creative director, Sarah Burton, was the man who steered that brand through perhaps the toughest experience any creative company could have: the suicide of its namesake designer, and his replacement by his former No. 2.
Both executives seemed embedded in their respective brands, so the moves came as something of a surprise. And the changes raise questions about the Versace listing, as well as the luxury group of Kering under Grita Loebsack, its new chief executive for Luxury — couture & leather goods’ emerging brands (phew — long title), who joined from Unilever last July.
Meanwhile, Mr. Akeroyd has been replaced at McQueen by Emmanuel Gintzburger, who came from another Kering brand, Yves Saint Laurent.
And this is just the most recent example.
The executive-change trend started with a bang at the end of January when Maureen Chiquet, the chief executive of Chanel since 2007, was summarily dismissed. At the moment, the brand is being run by the chairman, Alain Wertheimer. And there have been no rumblings about a replacement for Ms. Chiquet, though there have been lots of rumors about whether Hedi Slimane, the former Saint Laurent creative director who left that company last month, is going to join it in some capacity. So perhaps Mr. Wertheimer is waiting for that moment before matchmaking with a new executive.
Ms. Chiquet’s departure was followed the next month by that of Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, the chief executive of Hugo Boss, who fell on his sword two days after issuing a profit warning that caused the company’s share price to fall dramatically; earlier this month he was replaced by the former C.F.O., Mark Langer.
Then last month, it was announced that Michele Norsa, the executive who led the family-owned Salvatore Ferragamo label through the often difficult transition to public company in 2011, was stepping down for personal reasons. At the beginning of May, the company announced that he would be replaced by the Furla chief executive Eraldo Poletto this summer. For their part, Furla said they would make an announcement about a new C.E.O. soon.
And earlier this month, Rodrigo Bazan, the chief executive of Alexander Wang, left that label (on good terms in search of another challenge) after five years to join Thom Browne, “to write the next chapter for the brand,” as he texted.
Mr. Wang famously agreed to part ways with Balenciaga last July to concentrate on growing his brand, and there was a lot of talk of a minority investor at the time. But thus far, while talks are ongoing, it has not materialized, and the C.E.O. post, like the same post at Chanel, has yet to be filled.
In other words, there are more moves to come!
This is one fast-paced game of musical chairs. And, along with the designer moves that have occurred, it suggests that all of us purchasers of fashion may well start noticing that things look a little different come autumn. After all, with new executives come new strategies and new five-year plans, and new approaches to retail and e-tail, and new product categories (or reduced product categories) and so on. Get ready.