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Jean Paul Gaultier to Exit Hermès

Gaultier to focus on his own rtw and haute couture fashion house, while Christophe Lemaire will succeed him at Hermès.

Hermès is saying adieu to Jean Paul Gaultier and bonjour to Christophe Lemaire.

The French luxury goods house said Wednesday it was parting ways with Gaultier, its artistic director of women’s ready-to-wear, and named Lemaire, the Paris-based designer and Lacoste creative director, as his successor.

Gaultier will leave Hermès after the spring 2011 collection is unveiled in Paris in October, and Lemaire will take over as artistic director of women’s rtw effective with the fall 2011 collection.

Lemaire’s future at Lacoste could not be learned at press time, though it is unlikely he will remain at the French activewear brand.

The move will allow Gaultier to focus on his own rtw and haute couture fashion house, in which Hermès will retain a 45 percent stake. Hermès bought an initial 35 percent shareholding in Gaultier in 1999.

“Hermès is deeply grateful to Jean-Paul Gaultier for his outstanding creative contribution during these seven years,” the company stated.

Hermès executives could not be reached for further comment.

The news raised several eyebrows in industry circles — not least because Lemaire is far lesser known than Gaultier on the fashion circuit, and possibly less versed in the world of luxury goods. Gaultier, by contrast, was once considered Paris fashion’s enfant terrible, but over the years has become one of the city’s most revered and quintessentially French designers. That reputation was cemented when Hermès appointed Gaultier to succeed Martin Margiela in 2003.

Gaultier’s first collection for Hermès was for fall 2004, during which he set the tone for his tenure, which was far tamer and classic than many had anticipated from the designer. In the lineup, he heavily played with the equestrian theme, with riding regalia and leather used in every possible way. Gaultier also started tinkering with some house classics, shrinking the Kelly to a chic clutch and changing the proportions of the Birkin, most notably elongating its shape.

His most recent collection for fall was inspired by Emma Peel and “The New Avengers,” with bowler hats and lots of umbrellas with miniature Kelly bags attached to them.

While Hermès continued to grow globally and bolster its bottom line, Gaultier failed to ignite the kind of spark to the house’s rtw that other designers brought to iconic French houses, such as John Galliano at Christian Dior and Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. It is unclear whether the privately owned Hermès was looking for such buzz, and whether Lemaire will be the one to bring it to the brand.

Lemaire, who also has his own namesake line, joined Lacoste in 2000, and has since put a fresh spin on the brand beyond the iconic polo shirt.