By  on July 17, 2008

The apparel industry has snatched up another L’Oréal executive.

A spokeswoman for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton confirmed Wednesday morning that Valerie Chapoulaud, president of the Luxury Products Division at L’Oréal USA, has been named chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton Taiwan. She will assume her new post in mid-September, said the spokeswoman.

Chapoulaud is the third L’Oréal executive in six months to leave the beauty world for a fashion post. Chapoulaud’s immediate predecessor in her L’Oréal role, Edgar Huber, was named president of Juicy Couture in June after spending a year as a senior executive for L’Oréal SA in Paris, and Edouard Roche, a 17-year L’Oréal veteran who last was worldwide general manager for Redken Fifth Avenue, decamped in February for Polo Ralph Lauren to head up Impact 21 Co Ltd., a majority-owned subsidiary of Polo.

A 24-year veteran of L’Oréal, Chapoulaud joined the company in 1984 and spent her early years in financial and sales positions. She was named general manager of Biotherm in Italy in 1994, and joined the Biotherm International development team in Paris two years later. In 2002, Chapoulaud was appointed general manager of luxury products for the Asian zone. She was named European zone director in 2005 before assuming her current role in June 2007.

As president of the Luxury Products Division, Chapoulaud has been responsible for overseeing the beauty giant’s prestige brands in the U.S., including Lancôme, Kiehl’s Since 1851, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, Giorgio Armani Cosmetics and Shu Uemura. She reports to Laurent Attal, president and ceo of L’Oréal USA.

“We respect Valerie’s decision and thank her for her passion and her unique contributions to the Luxury Products Division and to L’Oréal USA,” said Attal, adding that Chapoulaud’s successor “will be announced shortly.”

Chapoulaud had not returned repeated calls for comment by press time Wednesday.

Industry observers praised the move.

“Fashion is a highly successful business, but this isn’t the first time they’ve reached into the beauty world for top positions,” said René Plessner, president of executive search firm René Plessner Associates, noting that, for instance, Liz Claiborne nabbed William L. McComb, its ceo, from Johnson & Johnson. It can also work the other way, he noted, pointing out that the new president and chief operating officer of the Estée Lauder Cos., Fabrizio Freda, was president of the Global Snacks Division of Procter & Gamble Co., before joining Lauder in March with the understanding that he will move up to ceo within two years.

“While it may be coincidental that all three of these former L’Oréal executives have gone to fashion, it isn’t surprising that they come from the beauty industry in general,” continued Plessner. “The movement from beauty to fashion is logical because of the need to combine sophisticated marketing with great intuition. The cosmetics business is well respected in other industries for producing executives with both business and fashion senses. Valerie obviously fits that profile.”

Added Wendy Liebmann, founder and ceo of WSL Strategic Retail, “Fashion companies are becoming more integrated with beauty — in some ways, they have learned to live nicely together. The big global fashion companies are realizing that they need a much more sophisticated level of marketing around the world, so to their credit, they are looking beyond traditional fashion people to run them. Executives with experience at a major beauty company like L’Oréal have strategic experience with packaged goods, experience that a lot of senior fashion executives haven’t had.”

While both fashion and beauty require forging an emotional connection to one’s consumer, Liebmann continued, beauty executives often have an edge in international  business. “Designers have a skill that’s hard to replace,  but often they haven’t had the type of learning that helps them run multinational businesses,” said Liebmann. “There are a significant number of beauty companies, like L’Oréal, who have been running multinational businesses for many years, where brand development is done continent by continent. Given all of the emerging markets — particularly China, Russia and India — and the importance of them, it’s not surprising where if you need that skill set and you need it fast, you’d go to beauty companies. Running fashion is different in some ways, but there is enough overlap — particularly in an emotional relationship to brand-building — so that it would make sense.”

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