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LONDON — Chloé is poised to raise its profile and ramp up business under new creative director Clare Waight Keller and other design talent.
WWD reported Monday that Waight Keller was expected to take over at the house, succeeding Hannah MacGibbon. Waight Keller, who stepped down as creative director of Pringle of Scotland in March, will show her first collection this October for spring 2012.
“Clare understands and embraces Chloé’s DNA, and brings youth and freshness to the brand,” said Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, the firm’s chief executive officer. “And yet, we have never hired someone as seasoned and experienced for the role. Clare has worked for powerful Italian, American and British companies; has proven that she has commercial, creative and communication skills, and that she can manage a large studio.”
Waight Keller, who served as senior women’s designer at Gucci during the Tom Ford era, and has worked at Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, certainly has her work cut out for her during these next few months. She exited Pringle after a management shake-up, and is set to give birth to her third child this week. De la Bourdonnaye confirmed that Waight Keller would shortly be moving with her husband and three children, including twin daughters, to Paris.
The designer told WWD: “I was pleased to accept the position, as Chloé is a house that has always stood for beautiful, effortless, feminine elegance — all the values I hold true when I design and think about how women want to dress today.”
She added that her job would be “building and defining the next era, whilst respecting the history.” Chloé will mark its 60th anniversary next year, and de la Bourdonnaye said the company is beginning to put together a celebratory plan.
De la Bourdonnaye said he admires the work Waight Keller did at Pringle, which struggled to turn a profit before — and during — Waight Keller’s six-year tenure.
“I admire what Clare has done at Pringle. She’s made it more international and more contemporary. She really made it exist on the fashion scene,” he said. He also suggested that Pringle might not have been the ideal showcase for Waight Keller’s talents, adding, “It is important to find the perfect match between designer and brand DNA.”
De la Bourdonnaye highlighted her passion for, and expertise in, knitwear. “Knitwear makes up more than 50 percent of our business and is becoming a huge portion of sales in the luxury sector overall,” he said.
Meanwhile, de la Bourdonnaye has also hired another knitwear expert, Tom Van Lingen, as head of ready-to-wear at Chloé. Van Lingen, who will be Waight Keller’s business counterpart, has been director of Celine’s design studios since 2006. Before that, he was the knitwear designer at Sonia Rykiel.
Chloé also recently named Laure de Sade, an alumna of Isabel Marant, as design director of the second line See by Chloé. Her first collection will be for fall 2012.
Change has been in the air at the fashion house since last August, when de la Bourdonnaye was named ceo of the Paris-based Chloé International, which is owned by the luxury goods group Compagnie Financière Richemont. He succeeded Ralph Toledano, an 11-year veteran of the firm, who had selected, championed and coached MacGibbon, a painfully shy designer who spent five years at Valentino before joining Phoebe Philo, then creative director, at Chloé in 2003.
Sources said MacGibbon’s desire to continue at Chloé dwindled after Toledano’s exit.
As reported last month, MacGibbon recently extended her employment with Chloé for a brief period, now understood to be the stopgap for the transition to new creative leadership. MacGibbon was named creative director in 2008 after a short absence from the firm during which she consulted on fragrances.
MacGibbon showed six collections for Chloé, steering the brand back to its core fashion territory — fresh and girly nonchalance — and launching a second fragrance, called Love, Chloé, fronted by model Raquel Zimmermann styled as a modern-day Charlie girl.
De la Bourdonnaye said MacGibbon’s departure was the result of a mutual decision. “When we came to the end of Hannah’s contract, we talked about the future, and it seemed her interests and inspirations were more outside than inside the company,” he said.
Chloé is one of the most high-profile fashion properties at Richemont, and was once touted as having billion-dollar potential, but its momentum has sputtered in recent years. It has reined in its advertising spend and retail expansion amid muted excitement around the brand — and stiff competition from luxury giants and hot contemporary chains.
Chloé has also weathered turbulence in its design studio since Philo’s exit in 2006. Before installing MacGibbon, one of Philo’s deputies, Chloé experimented with a team approach and three unfruitful seasons under Swedish designer Paulo Melim Andersson, who led the brand down a darker and quirkier path.
De la Bourdonnaye said Waight Keller’s arrival would not mark any major strategy or creative shift at the house.
“We’re not planning any radical changes, but we do want to become more directional from a creative standpoint, and more service-oriented. We want to be even more feminine, more commercial and more on-time with our deliveries,” he said.
He declined to give any sales figures, but said the 2010-11 fiscal year was a “record year for Chloé, which has very healthy financials. The momentum is gathering, and we’ll be building upon it,” he said.
Market sources estimate the brand generates revenues of about 300 million euros, or $429.4 million at current exchange, reflecting wholesale and royalty income from fragrances and other licensed products.
Going forward, de la Bourdonnaye said he plans to expand Chloé’s leather accessories and jewelry offer, and is looking to build the business in the U.S. and Latin America, although he did not give any details. Currently, he said, the brand’s strongest markets are Japan, China and Europe.