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David Chu Exiting Tumi

Executive creative director sought to reposition firm.

Tumi is parting with executive creative director David Chu almost two years after he was brought on board to help reposition the travel accessory company as a larger and more fashionable player in the luxury market.

Chu initially took an equity stake in privately held Tumi that he described as “meaningful and significant.” Chu and Tumi chief executive officer Laurence Franklin did not comment on whether Chu’s stake would change.

They said the mutual decision not to renew his contract, which runs through Dec. 31, was made so that each party could focus on their core business development. Chu has three men’s wear businesses under the company he started in 2004 after his exit from Nautica, which he created and sold for at least $104 million.

“We’ve accomplished what we set out to do, which was to elevate the brand to a whole new level,” Chu said.

Tumi did not name a successor for Chu, who oversaw product design, store design, advertising and public relations. In addition, he was originally tapped for his strategic vision to develop the business. Tumi, based in South Plainfield, N.J., and known for modern luggage made from ballistic nylon, wanted to expand globally into more luxurious and fashionable realms. Chu envisioned Tumi as a travel-lifestyle brand evoking the glamorous golden ages of air- and steam-travel.

But he had never designed women’s accessories, and Tumi wanted to invigorate its women’s handbag and accessories business, as women’s comprised only 10 percent of accessories and lifestyle sales and one-third of luggage sales.

Four new handbag collections hit stores in June 2007, priced from $295 to $695. Chu hired advertising guru David Lipman, photographer Michael Thompson and model Shalom Harlow to create a slick campaign conveying Tumi’s new image.

Tumi simultaneously courted the male luxury consumer with new totes and briefcases and a collection of hard-sided trunks, including one built to hold 12 pairs of shoes and another for jewelry.

In addition, Tumi began opening new stores and renovating existing locations. The new interiors were designed to be more inviting to women, with features such as red glass chandeliers. When the first new concept bowed on Madison Avenue, it prominently featured products for women and did not carry Tumi’s core luggage products.

“The work that David and Tumi have done together has been extremely well received by consumers, the retail trade and the press both in the U.S. and in our international markets,” Franklin said. “Tumi is definitely at a different level in terms of global brand development than we were when we began our collaboration with David.”

The company’s global retail sales rose to more than $375 million in 2007 from $350 million in 2006. Franklin credited Chu with helping the luxury segment grow to 15 percent from 5 percent of Tumi’s total business.

He will continue to run David Chu Design International, which operates his eponymous bespoke collection; his golf-inspired apparel brand, Lincs–David Chu, and the Mallory & Church neckwear and hosiery business. Lincs recently signed a sponsorship deal with the Golf Channel and is rolling out to 200 Dillard’s doors for spring.