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PARIS — The house of Yves Saint Laurent is rocking — and not only because of designer Hedi Slimane’s penchant for grunge and Teddy Boys.
In a management shake-up that caught many by surprise in the midst of couture week here, YSL parent Kering said Tuesday that chief executive officer Paul Deneve, who recruited Slimane and implemented a daring rejuvenation drive, would leave the French fashion house after two years. He is to be succeeded effective Sept. 1 by Francesca Bellettini, an executive director from Kering-owned Bottega Veneta known for her merchandising prowess.
What’s more, Slimane — who already boasts one of the most commanding controls of a major fashion label, from photographing the campaigns to vetting the press discount list — is to now also “supervise all strategic projects for the brand.”
Kering said Deneve is leaving to take up a “new opportunity in the high-tech industry” and mentioned Silicon Valley, suggesting a move to Northern California, home to Apple, Facebook and Google.
RELATED STORY: Paul Deneve Hired by Apple >>
Reached by WWD, Deneve declined to comment on his next move, characterizing his exit from YSL as “bittersweet,” even if the company registered strong growth — almost doubling revenues — during his brief tenure.
“It was an amazing adventure and I’m very confident in the future of this brand,” he said.
An affable, pensive executive of Belgian descent, Deneve came to the fashion industry from Apple, and worked for Courrèges, Nina Ricci and Lanvin before joining YSL in April 2011.
He brought Slimane, who had devoted himself to photography and art after exiting Dior Homme in 2007, back to the mythic French house and partnered with him to “revolutionize fashion again,” as Deneve boasted to WWD in an interview last year.
Paris-born Slimane burst on to the fashion scene in the late Nineties with his modernist and provocative men’s wear for YSL, ultimately joining Dior and creating Dior Homme, overseeing everything from fragrances to the store design, up to and including the contemporary artists commissioned for the fitting rooms.
In his return to YSL, Slimane succeeded Stefano Pilati, who logged a topsy-turvy eight-year stint, and immediately set about an all-encompassing overhaul of product and image. For starters, Slimane changed the name of the collection and stores to Saint Laurent to symbolize the principles of youth, freedom and modernity that inspired the creation of Saint Laurent Rive Gauche ready-to-wear back in 1966.
He also returned to his familiar obsessions — androgyny, minimalist architecture and the music scene. He introduced a sleek marble-driven boutique design and snapped moody black-and-white ad campaigns featuring a range of musicians, from insider (Christopher Owens of San Francisco band Girls) to incendiary (Marilyn Manson).
While his first collections proved divisive among critics, particularly his literal take on grunge for fall, Slimane’s makeover is showing commercial traction. YSL reported a 16.9 percent revenue gain in the first quarter, besting all its luxury peers at Kering, parent of Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Boucheron and other brands.
According to a Paris source, YSL is expected to continue charting top-line growth when Kering reports first-half results on July 25, although heavy investments in the creative overhaul and expanding the store network are expected to weigh on profitability.
It is understood Bellettini, 43, recruited by Bottega in 2008 as worldwide merchandising director, will play a key role in reinforcing Saint Laurent’s crucial leather goods business.
Star products created by Pilati, notably Tribute and Tribtoo shoes and Cabas Chyc bags, were originally swept aside by Slimane but have recently trickled back onto shelves alongside Slimane creations such as the Betty and Duffle bags.
An Italian national, Bellettini joined Bottega from Gucci. A graduate of Bocconi University in Milan, she worked in investment banking in London before joining Prada Group in 2002 in planning and new business development.
Most recently, she oversaw all aspects of merchandising, visual display and communication at Bottega.
Commenting on her appointment, François-Henri Pinault, chairman and ceo of Kering and chairman of YSL, said, “Her expertise and her determination persuaded me of her ability to implement Saint Laurent’s day-to-day strategy.”
Pinault also thanked Deneve for a “remarkable job in leading Saint Laurent’s transformation and development.”
The business titan has been vocal in his support for Slimane, who exerts a heavy hand in not only design, but also the look of staff in his stores and the placement of editors at his shows, some seated behind his famous friends and designer peers.
Kering declined to elaborate on the management change, or comment on speculation that Deneve had become estranged from Slimane, who lives in Los Angeles and moved YSL’s design studios there.
In Tuesday’s statement, Pinault lauded Slimane’s “clear vision” for YSL. “He has successfully rejuvenated and repositioned the brand,” he said, asserting that it is “one of the world’s most prominent fashion houses and my ambition is that Saint Laurent is able to realize its considerable long-term potential for growth.”
Given YSL’s ambitions to rival the likes of Chanel and Dior in size and cachet, it has set an interim goal of reaching 1 billion euros in sales before the end of this decade, according to industry sources. YSL revenues in 2012 totaled 473 million euros, or $608.2 million at average exchange.