Here, the names that dominated the headlines in 2013. The winner, selected by WWD editors, will be published Dec. 16.
TITLE: Executive vice president
COMPANY: LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton
NEWS THIS YEAR: Long a behind-the-scenes power player at the luxury group her family controls, Delphine Arnault emerged this year as a crucial talent scout for LVMH as the competition for hot designers intensified.
The daughter of luxury titan Bernard Arnault was intricately involved in the recruitment of Nicolas Ghesquière as artistic director of women’s collections at Louis Vuitton, the hiring of leather goods designer Darren Spaziani for Vuitton, the majority acquisition of British footwear designer firm Nicholas Kirkwood, and the minority investment in rising London fashion star J.W. Anderson, who was also handed the design reins at Loewe.
The 38-year-old Arnault, who had been Dior’s deputy managing director since 2008, in September became second-in-command at Vuitton and was put in charge of all the house’s product-related activities. Given that the cash-cow brand has estimated revenues of 7.4 billion euros, or about $10 billion at current exchange, the appointment puts her in one of the most pivotal positions in the industry.
A friendly yet discrete executive, Arnault rarely gives interviews, leaving the spotlight to the brand and its creative director. She called Spaziani, hired away from Proenza Schouler to spearhead new lines of “very high-end” leather goods, “one of the most talented designers of his generation.”
Likewise, Arnault described Kirkwood’s talent for shoe design as exceptional, adding, “I am especially impressed with his commitment to innovation and craftsmanship.”
— MILES SOCHA
TITLE: Chief creative officer
COMPANY: Burberry Group
NEWS THIS YEAR: It’s unusual for fashion designers to occupy both corner offices simultaneously, especially when those offices belong to a FTSE 100 company. Come next year, Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer, will be in that rare position. In an unconventional move that sent the company’s share price down nearly 9 percent, Burberry Group said Bailey would succeed Angela Ahrendts, who will become senior vice president of retail and online stores at Apple, as chief executive officer, while retaining his current creative role.
Bailey, who worked at Gucci under Tom Ford — another left-brain, right-brain designer — and was hired at Burberry by the former ceo, Rose Marie Bravo, has been instrumental in reshaping the brand and selling it to a younger, more international audience.
Bailey last week began to lay out his management vision, naming longtime colleague Luc Goidadin chief design officer to oversee all design activities under Bailey’s direction. He split the group into three pillars: design, product and communication; regions, and operations and finance. Existing executives will assume additional responsibilities. As a result, Bailey will have fewer direct reports than Ahrendts.
Bailey’s appointment comes at a delicate time for the ambitious company, which has recently brought its beauty business in-house — with a few stumbles in doing so, is winding down its Japanese license, grappling with uneven demand in China and negotiating the dynamic between online and brick-and-mortar sales. “We have always seen art and commerce not as opposing forces, but as two sides to the same coin,” he said last week. “There is tremendous potential and fuel in the tank.”
— SAMANTHA CONTI
TITLE: Chairman and chief executive officer
COMPANY: Hudson’s Bay Co.
NEWS THIS YEAR: He may have cut his teeth in the real estate business, but Richard Baker has proven his mettle in retail. With his deal earlier this month to purchase Saks Fifth Avenue for $3 billion, Baker is a force to be reckoned with in North American retailing. The acquisition of Saks, for which he outmaneuvered Neiman Marcus Group and KKR & Co., brings Baker’s cache of retail stores to 320 doors, including 179 full-line specialty department stores, 72 outlets and 69 home stores.
Baker began his career working with his father, Robert, in the family business — National Realty & Development Corp., one of the largest private owners of shopping centers in the country. In 2006, he took his first plunge into the retail end of the business, buying Lord & Taylor from Federated Department Stores. Two years later, he acquired Hudson’s Bay Co., the world’s oldest retailer with roots that date back to the fur trade in the 1600s.
Baker has invested in both nameplates, spending $40 million to renovate the L&T flagship alone, and started opening stores again after a hiatus of a decade. Last year, the company added units in New Hampshire and Yonkers, N.Y., and a Boca Raton, Fla., store opened in October, after an absence of 11 years. Hudson’s Bay too has been given a facelift under Baker’s tutelage, with the addition of Topshop and Topman shops, the bolstering of its private brand portfolio and the updating of its branded assortment. He also has identified his handpicked team, which encompasses Bonnie Brooks as vice chairman and Liz Rodbell as president of Hudson’s Bay Co., Marigay McKee as president of Saks and Jennifer de Winter as its chief merchandising officer.
Now that the Saks acquisition has been completed, Baker can execute an even more extensive game plan, which includes a broader rollout of L&T outlets under the Saks Off 5th umbrella and bringing Saks and its off-price sibling to Canada. The deal might also bring Hudson’s Bay, which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange, to Wall Street.
— JEAN E. PALMIERI
THE BANGLADESH WORKER
NEWS THIS YEAR: As they fell victim to the worst garment industry disaster in history, which was far from isolated, the Bangladesh apparel worker suffered through what can only be described as a horrible year. Incidents such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in April that killed 1,132 people and the fire at Tazreen Fashions last November in which 112 workers perished were the worst of a series of deadly disasters that created an outcry inside and outside the industry and country for action to change the global supply chain system.
The Western retailers and brands that made Bangladesh an export powerhouse for apparel reacted by creating two separate plans — the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, led by the IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union and including 100 mostly European companies and a handful of U.S. ones, and the North American-based Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which includes most major U.S. retailers. Companies have also received criticism for generally not issuing compensation for the injured and the families of those who perished, and the Alliance has been negatively cited for not including unions or worker groups. Both plans aim to improve working conditions with funding for factory improvements and setting new standards for health and safety, and inspections.
There’s also been plenty of finger pointing over who or what is to blame. There’s the government corruption that allowed for building codes to not be enforced and for factory owners also being among the political power brokers. Those same factory owners are also cited for ignoring the health and safety of the workers, and fighting efforts to allow them to organize. But some put the ultimate blame on the decision-makers — the big companies that choose to manufacture in the country despite its poor track record of safety and labor abuses.
“The black eye is deserved,” said Rick Helfenbein, president of Luen Thai USA, speaking at a panel on the topic at the WWD CEO Summit. “I don’t think there’s anybody…in retail or manufacturing that intended for this to happen. But it was the old expression, ‘It was an accident waiting to happen.’”
For veteran labor rights advocate Charles Kernaghan, the foundation for change has to come from allowing the industry to unionize. He said, “There has to be the ability for unions to form across the developing world. Give [workers] a chance to have unions and we’ll see a transformation. It has to come from the workers, but it also has to come from the retailers. You can’t just go there as bystanders.”
— ARTHUR FRIEDMAN
TITLE: President and chief executive officer
COMPANY: The Estée Lauder Cos.
NEWS THIS YEAR: Fabrizio Freda has had a landmark year at the Estée Lauder Cos., smashing through the $10 billion mark in sales and capping off a four-year restructuring plan, while launching Tory Burch’s first fragrance and expanding many of Lauder’s existing brands with new products.
Freda has helped drive Lauder to record sales and profitability, building an additional $3 billion in sales in the last four years, tripling operating profits, increasing the company’s operating margin to 15 percent from 7 percent and increasing dividends 162 percent. Lauder’s market capitalization has risen to almost $26 billion this year from $6 billion in June 2009.
“We have always been a growth company, but over the past four years our mission was to make that growth more profitable and sustainable, and we clearly accomplished that goal,” Freda said during the company’s earnings call in August. “Having established a firm foundation, we have an even better position today to focus on our top-line growth with the added advantage of having greater advertising firepower to unite our brands and promote the latest innovations.”
That innovation has carried over to the product level. In addition to launches from new partners, such as Burch’s signature debut fragrance, of which Bloomingdale’s sold an estimated $45,000 to $50,000 worth on the day it bowed, old favorites such as Clinique’s 45-year-old Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion have been updated with the latest technologies.
— JULIE NAUGHTON
SIR PHILIP GREEN
TITLE: Chief executive officer
COMPANY: Arcadia Group
NEWS THIS YEAR: Sir Philip Green has worked hard and fast to pump up his Topshop and Topman retail empire over the past year. In the meantime, he also managed to woo Kate Moss back into his fashionable stable.
In the U.S., Green is in negotiations to open four or five additional Topshop stores to enlarge his U.S. fleet of four freestanding locations, while the Topshop and Topman collaboration with Nordstrom is zooming ahead — what began with 14 doors in September 2012 has blossomed into 42 Topshop and 18 Topman locations. Nordstrom is considering a further 10 units for spring, and another spate of doors for late fall.
The U.S. isn’t the only market that Green is cracking. Galeries Lafayette opened France’s first Topshop corner at its Boulevard Haussmann flagship in October, while in June a 14,000-square-foot Hong Kong flagship bowed on Queen’s Road Central, Topshop’s first China unit. In addition, Green has talked about plans to expand into Italy and Thailand.
Green will launch the Moss collection that will appear in April at all of Topshop’s 40 markets simultaneously. On top of all of that, he is aiming to expand his other retail banners — Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Evans — into international markets.
But more than Topshop expansion plans placed Green in the headlines. He was also at the center of an ongoing legal battle with Rihanna, who took him to court following Topshop’s sale in 2012 of T-shirts featuring the singer’s image from the “We Found Love” music video. Over the summer, a U.K. court ruled in Rihanna’s favor, although it has not given its final word on potential costs or damages to be paid and Topshop is appealing the decision.
COMPANY: Marc Jacobs
NEWS THIS YEAR: The carousel was black. The fountain, escalators, elevator and fantastical feathered showgirl headdresses were all black. So was the clock, reimagined from Louis Vuitton’s fall 2012 train-themed show. At the stroke of 10 a.m. on Oct. 2, its hands ticked backward for several minutes, after which Marc Jacobs’ brilliant tenure at Vuitton was over.
Although neither conceived nor intended as his last show for the house, Jacobs’ spring extravaganza for Louis Vuitton put stunning punctuation on his 16-year reign as creative director. With unfailing commitment to fashion, Jacobs transformed Vuitton from a tony, dusty luggage giant into a vibrant fashion brand with major resonance around the globe. Along the way, he pioneered the fashion-art fusion by conspiring boldly with some of the art world’s major names — Stephen Sprouse, Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami — in now legendary collaborations.
About that clock, counting backward, one could read into it the symbolism of going back to a singular focus on the Marc Jacobs International business. Just days before the Vuitton show, Jacobs, Robert Duffy and Bernard Arnault confirmed the move, noting the necessity of the designer and his longtime partner to concentrate solely on that business in preparation for an initial public offering.
Less than one month before, Jacobs presented a collection for his namesake brand that offered yet another example of why he has remained on the cutting edge of the creative side of fashion for more than 25 years. Dark Victoriana met surfwear on a post-catastrophe beach set in a show that left his audience mesmerized and debating everything from his mood (“happy as can be”) to the weighty fabrics (“fashion people are fashion people”) to whether the sweltering heat in the Lexington Avenue Armory had been purposeful (“suffering wasn’t my intention”).
How exactly Jacobs will channel his intense aesthetic into making the company IPO-ready from a product standpoint he’s not yet certain, but expects to find a way within the long-established ethos of Marc Jacobs.
“Maybe,” he told WWD, “there is a whole world of possibility open to a paradigm — something that isn’t clichéd.”
— BRIDGET FOLEY
TITLE: Chairman, president and chief executive officer
COMPANY: Procter & Gamble Co.
NEWS THIS YEAR: After several lackluster years marked by market-share losses in key categories, including beauty care, P&G turned to a familiar face. In May, the $84 billion consumer products giant reinstalled A.G. Lafley as chairman, president and chief executive officer, ousting Bob McDonald.
The move marked the second time P&G called on Lafley to relieve a struggling ceo. In 2000, he returned as a temporary replacement for Durk Jager, who was unseated after only 18 months. Lafley stayed on as ceo for nearly a decade.
The 66-year-old’s current tour is seen as more temporary — and Wall Street analysts said one of his most important tasks will be to find a successor. They are also looking to the turnaround maverick to fix the beauty business, which has lost ground to rivals such as L’Oréal.
Less than a month after his return, Lafley reorganized P&G’s executive ranks, regrouping its global business units into four sectors. As part of the changes, Deborah Henretta, an executive some industry observers have speculated could be a possible successor to Lafley, was named group president of Global Beauty, overseeing beauty care, retail and professional hair care and color and prestige.
Lafley plans to get P&G’s beauty business growing again with a bevy of new product initiatives, slated to roll out from December to March. They include yet-another revamp of the $3 billion Pantene brand in January.
At the company’s shareholders meeting in October, where many greeted the ceo with “welcome back,” Lafley said P&G will focus on the group’s core businesses, which include the leading, most profitable brands, categories and countries. He noted the company’s portfolio includes 25 brands with annual sales of more than $1 billion each, and 15 brands with sales within the $500 million to $1 billion range.
— MOLLY PRIOR
TITLE: Chief executive officer
COMPANY: Barneys New York
NEWS THIS YEAR: It was a year filled with some incredible highs and a few lows for Mark Lee. Among the highlights was the re-branding of two of Barneys’ largest Co-op units as a prelude to the transformation of the entire Co-op fleet, including the possible elimination of the nameplate from freestanding stores. Co-op stores at 2151 Broadway in New York and The Grove in Los Angeles were re-branded as simply Barneys New York.
In addition, several floors underwent complete renovations in 2013 to create fresh environments. Barneys did a major revamp of its cosmetics and fragrance floors in the Madison Avenue flagship and Beverly Hills store.
Barneys’ flagship also completely renovated its sixth-floor men’s department, creating a new home for classic European brands including Ermenegildo Zegna, Brioni, Isaia, Kiton, Giorgio Armani and Uman, as well as an expanded made-to-measure department.
The retailer also made a big splash when it forged a partnership with Shawn “Jay Z” Carter for a high-wattage promotion, dubbed “A New York Holiday,” that has the musician collaborating on a range of merchandise with top designers and influential indie brands to a fashion collection of limited-edition holiday products.
Just as Barneys began to ramp up for the Jay Z promotion came one of the retailer’s lowest points of the year. Barneys became embroiled in a controversy sparked by the questioning of two black shoppers by New York Police Department officers after they made expensive purchases at the Madison Avenue flagship. Protests, a press conference and an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman all took up some of Lee’s time this fall. Macy’s Inc. also was criticized by black shoppers for alleged racial profiling. Both stores denied the allegations.
The controversy continues, however, and Barneys executives will be among those from stores including Macy’s Inc., Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus Group, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue that will gather on Nov. 22 at a forum in New York cohosted by the Retail Council of New York State and the New York Metropolitan Retail Association to discuss racial profiling, loss prevention and store operations.
— LISA LOCKWOOD
TERRY J. LUNDGREN
TITLE: Chairman, president and chief executive officer
COMPANY: Macy’s Inc.
NEWS THIS YEAR: Department stores, once regarded as dinosaurs, have new life and a lot of that is due to Terry J. Lundgren, the high-profile Macy’s chief.
Under his stewardship, the offering at many Macy’s locations has a localized component; exclusive product across the chain is growing; the spotlight is back on the Herald Square flagship, where a $400 million top-to-bottom renovation is moving forward, and investments in technology and omnichannel initiatives are on the rise. He’s a big believer in mobile, and he has supported the development of macys.com, which has emerged as a leading Web site. In each of the last three years, Macy’s has racked up $1.2 billion in sales increases, on average.
Lundgren also has enabled Bloomingdale’s to diversify its footprint to a more specialized format in a handful of locations, to venture overseas with its first international location in Dubai, and continue to expand the brand domestically. Bloomingdale’s could open additional overseas stores, and Macy’s one day might take the leap abroad, according to Lundgren.
Most recently, he defended Macy’s against accusations of a racial profiling incident, and spent some time in court in Macy’s case against Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. The dispute began last winter with Macy’s accusing Stewart of breach of contract for selling part of her company, as well as certain categories of merchandise, to Penney’s, but is moving toward a final resolution. Penney’s and MSLO late last month revised their deal, with Penney’s returning its stake in MSLO and the two firms focusing on categories Macy’s doesn’t sell.
— SHARON EDELSON
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
NEWS THIS YEAR: Members of Congress, led by House Republicans, brought the federal government to a standstill for 16 days in October and pushed the nation to the brink of a potentially catastrophic debt default, sending shock waves through the U.S. economy and putting foreign creditors on alert.
At its height, the federal government shutdown furloughed some 800,000 federal workers, turned out the lights at federal agencies, cut off crucial federal aid and shuttered national parks from coast to coast. The political brinkmanship and threat of a default on U.S. Treasury notes took a toll on the economy, sending consumer confidence spiraling and forcing some economic forecasting firms to revise downward their holiday sales predictions.
Economists at IHS Global Insight said the shutdown cost the economy an estimated $3.1 billion in gross domestic product and cut its fourth-quarter outlook for GDP growth to 1.6 percent from 2.2 percent.
While the ports remained open, critical negotiations over two of the largest trade deals — the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the U.S. and 11 countries and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and European Union stalled or slowed and Administration officials were not accessible for meetings with industry trade groups — even President Obama had to cancel a trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and the TPP leaders’ meeting in Bali, Indonesia, during the impasse. The trade talks for both accords have since been put back on track.
Lawmakers eventually came together and passed legislation that averted a default and reopened the government. The legislation continued funding for federal agencies until Jan. 15 and raised the nation’s debt ceiling through Feb. 7. When the dust had settled, President Obama called the impasse a “self-inflicted crisis that set our economy back.
— KRISTI ELLIS
TITLE: Creative Director
NEWS THIS YEAR: Just when everyone thought they had her pegged as the Madame of Minimalism, Phoebe Philo abruptly changed course. Her powerful spring collection was not about her familiar purity and pragmatism for the modern woman, but serious optic verve expressed through startling tribal graphics and colorful brush strokes. It was a curve ball for the trend mongerers who monitor Philo’s every creation and are now no doubt looking for tribal prints and primary colors to fill their spring deliveries.
Along with Miuccia Prada and Rei Kawakubo, Philo is one of the most influential designers working today, much to the pleasure of her employers at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. In fact, when rumblings of Marc Jacobs’ eventual exit from Louis Vuitton began, Philo’s name was reportedly at the top of Bernard Arnault’s wish list to fill the top spot — she knows a thing or two about hit handbags. The tandem rumor was that Philo wasn’t interested in the job.
She does not have a reputation for being a roll-with-the-punches type. Consider her stance on resort, which last season was shown to the press under the strict mandate of no reviews, no tweets, no phone photos. The strategy (one first tried and since abandoned by Tom Ford) was to hold off on all press until closer to the retail season — because Philo is supposedly one of the most copied designers in the world.
— JESSICA IREDALE
TITLE: Chairman and chief executive officer
NEWS THIS YEAR: The transformation is essentially complete. This year, François-Henri Pinault gave his family-controlled empire a new name, a new raison d’être and a fresh complexion, topping up its luxury holdings with majority stakes in Italian jeweler Pomellato and the London fashion house Christopher Kane, plus a minority investment in New York designer Joseph Altuzarra.
Kering became the new handle for the retail-to-luxury conglomerate previously known as PPR and before that as Pinault-Printemps-Redoute. By year-end, Kering is expected to shed cataloguer La Redoute, the last vestige of the group’s previous roots in retail, completing Pinault’s plan to make Kering a fashion and accessories specialist in the luxury and sport-lifestyle segments.
Pinault, whose father started out in timber trading in the Sixties only to construct the world’s third-largest luxury group, chose the made-up word Kering as a wink to his Breton roots — “ker” means house or home — and to connote how the firm takes care of its brands that include Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Puma, its 33,400 employees and the environment.
The revamped group’s tag line is “Empowering Imagination,” a phrase Kering management invoked in September when it took an estimated 40 percent stake in Altuzarra and unveiled plans to accelerate its development. Pinault certainly moved quickly to catapult Kane’s profile, scoring a site on Mount Street in London’s Mayfair area for the Scottish designer’s first boutique.
Demonstrating his group’s commitment to ecology and corporate social responsibility, Pinault unveiled new headquarters near Vincenzo, Italy, for Bottega Veneta, billed as the first in fashion and luxury to received the LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification at the Platinum level.
— MILES SOCHA
TITLE: Lead designer
NEWS THIS YEAR: Even by her industry-leading standards, 2013 proved stellar, as Miuccia Prada delivered two of the most marveled-over and dissected collections of the year. In addition, she did what previously seemed near impossible — she helped to costume an unimaginably glamorous, high-profile period film — Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” — using clothes from current and recent collections.
But then, that is part of Prada’s enduring brilliance. Over the years, she has made liberal use of historic references, sometimes to the degree that a dress — or 40 — can transfer into an idealized take on a time long gone. Yet her work remains consummately daring and modern in its shattering of conventions and, yes, in its proselytizing. Prada is first and foremost a fashion designer — she’ll correct someone in a heartbeat should they suggest otherwise. But her thought process swings intellectual and political, elements she streams into the body of work that often muses on women’s roles in society.
Prada’s fabulous fall and spring collections did just that, to very different effect. Fall was a cinematic reverie that she said was about “raw elegance” and the “romance of old-fashioned glamour,” delivered with a Forties vibe. The women who roamed the dark, intriguing set radiated an aura of feminine mystery with hints of delicacy and danger. They seemed trying to escape the past in order to gain control of the future.
Spring saw a sea change of the sort typical in Prada’s world. Inspired by Diego Rivera and other Mexican muralists, she commissioned contemporary artists to paint murals featuring women’s portraits. Her only mandate: obvious strength. She was so taken by the result that she reproduced the work on the clothes, the result a veritable army of she-warriors who had conquered every demon en route to conquering the world. They wore fabulous, flamboyant clothes that fused high-chic with cartoon clarity. “You need to be fighting…” Prada explained. “If they see you, they listen.” Once again Prada made it impossible not to look and listen.
— BRIDGET FOLEY
TITLE: Executive Chairman
COMPANY: Compagnie Financiére Richemont SA
NEWS THIS YEAR: Johann Rupert, the main shareholder of Richemont, sent a shock through the markets when he revealed last spring that he planned to take a year’s sabbatical, with the aim of enjoying life a little more. But that wasn’t all the news the famously outspoken South African luxury chief had in store.
During an annual conference with analysts to discuss the company’s year-end results, Rupert, 63, dropped a bombshell in response to a question about his appetite for future acquisitions. Rupert, whose group owns luxury brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Panerai, Dunhill, Chloé and Net-a-porter, said he had no immediate intention of buying anything more, and even regretted some of his past purchases
“You know, we talk about Van Cleef and about my baby Panerai, but we don’t talk about a load of rubbish that I also had a hand in buying,” he said. “So we haven’t always been that successful. Maybe we’ve got to cull our bad investments quicker.”
The markets began buzzing in the wake of the statement, and many industry sources said that Richemont’s entire soft luxury division — a mixed bag of assets acquired over a long period and with no clear strategy — was for sale. Richemont swiftly denied that it was shopping either Net-a-porter or Chloé, and then, last week, Rupert resurfaced from his sabbatical to quash any more rumors. In an internal memo to Richemont staff obtained by WWD, he said, “As the controlling shareholder, it is my pleasure to confirm to you that I have no intention of disposing of any maison. We also have no intention of taking any of our maisons public through an IPO.”
— SAMANTHA CONTI
COMPANY: Saint Laurent
NEWS THIS YEAR: His influence is everywhere. Hedi Slimane’s grunge-fueled sophomore collection for Saint Laurent ignited his brand rejuvenation effort and also made its mark on everything from high-street chains packed to the rafters with lumberjack plaids and skinny leathers this fall, to designer advertising, suddenly all moody and black-and-white.
Slimane also set a new template for the all-knowing, all-doing modern creative director by accruing wider powers following the exit over the summer of chief executive officer Paul Deneve, who joined Apple. While Francesca Bellettini, an executive director from sister brand Bottega Veneta, took over as ceo, Slimane was handed the responsibility to “supervise all strategic projects for the brand.”
The California-based Frenchman already boasted one of the most commanding controls of a major fashion label, from photographing ad campaigns and designing stores to vetting the press discount list. While his fashion shows have been somewhat divisive, Slimane’s rock ’n’ roll-fueled makeover of one of French fashion’s stalwart names is showing results. Saint Laurent logged a 7.2 percent increase in the third quarter, with the ready-to-wear category and Japan both vaulting 41 percent. Parent company Kering noted high volumes of editorial helped boost the brand’s momentum.
Also this year, Saint Laurent started rolling out a sleek marble-driven boutique design conceived floor to ceiling by Slimane in cities including Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Berlin. Already, it’s been mimicked by several fashion chains.
Arriving at the house in 2012, Slimane immediately set out to place his fashions in a broader cultural context, forging ties with rock stars like Courtney Love, Beck and Kim Gordon, whom he photographed for campaigns earlier this year. They and others feature under the “music project” section of YSL’s Web site.
Slimane also made headlines this year by cutting off business relations with Colette after the famous Paris retailer sold a parody T-shirt that winked to the designer’s streamlining of the brand name: “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves.” While it raised the designer’s ire, it also telegraphed that people are riveted by every move Slimane makes.
— MILES SOCHA
MYRON “MIKE” ULLMAN 3RD
TITLE: Chief executive officer
COMPANY: J.C. Penney Co. Inc.
NEWS THIS YEAR: In a strange twist of fate, Myron “Mike” Ullman 3rd returned to Penney’s last April as chief executive officer after being removed from the job in 2011 and replaced by Ron Johnson, whose visionary yet ill-conceived reinvention strategy put Penney’s on the verge of collapse.
Amid huge losses and sales declines, Penney’s future remains uncertain. But Ullman is considered among the smartest, most capable and competitive executives in retailing, cool-headed and analytical with a impressive résumé including being a former Macy’s ceo, and various top jobs at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and its DFS Group subsidiary.
At Penney’s, he’s been moving rapidly to undo the damage by restoring much of what Johnson discarded, like coupons, price promoting and core private brands such as St. John’s Bay and Ambrielle, and even bringing back the old logo. Upon his return to the Plano, Tex.-based department store chain, Ullman quickly drew up a laundry list of 30 things that needed fixing. In his progress report 200 days into his second stint, he said two-thirds of the things on the list have been fixed. Shoring up the financing and the confidence of the vendor and financial community, while wooing back customers who had abandoned Penney’s for other stores, has topped the agenda. Signs of improvement are already visible, with sales trends improving.
Ullman has acknowledged that not everything that Johnson developed was bad for the business. Investments in certain new shops like Joe Fresh, and improvements in the store environment for visual clarity and ambience, as well as some service enhancements, are being perpetuated, according to Ullman.
— DAVID MOIN
TITLE: Creative director
COMPANY: Alexander Wang and Balenciaga
NEWS THIS YEAR: Just about a month after Nicolas Ghesquière exited Balenciaga, Alexander Wang, then 28, was named his successor. The media loved painting Wang as an unlikely candidate for the job, zeroing in on him as a T-shirt designer assuming the reins at a storied French couture house, which Ghesquière had revived as a bastion of experimental, highly influential fashion during his 15-year tenure.
In reality, Wang designs much more than T-shirts for his own collection, which he launched in 2005 and which quickly became a driving force in the contemporary market. His dynamic street aesthetic connected with a passionate customer, putting the company in rapid growth mode over the last two years. Its 16th store opened in Tokyo last month.
If there was a blatant commercial mandate behind Wang’s appointment, he handled it deftly in his first collection for fall 2013, which was smart, well-designed and neither too reverential to the house codes nor too symbiotic with his own more casual body of work. From the beginning, he was crystal clear on one point: His role as creative director of Balenciaga is to fuel the commercial ship.
“Right off the bat, it wasn’t like my first meetings were just on designing the collection,” Wang said before his fall show. He recalled a discussion with chief executive officer Isabelle Guichot “to kind of understand what’s very important for business and where we needed to go.”
One of the first destinations is retail: The first Balenciaga store under Wang’s creative vision opened last week, the New York flagship at 148 Mercer Street. The store, designed in stately green marble, limestone chrome and cracked resin, is light years away from the Space-Age obsession of Ghesquière. “One of the main things I wanted to convey was a sense of permanence,” Wang said.
— JESSICA IREDALE