By  on September 14, 2011

PARIS — It’s all change at Louis Vuitton, which next year will welcome a new chief executive officer — and likely a new artistic director.

Jordi Constans, 47, an executive at French food giant Danone SA, is to succeed Yves Carcelle at the end of 2012 after spending a year familiarizing himself with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and its star, cash-cow brand.

Carcelle, a dynamic executive who helmed the leather goods powerhouse for more than two decades and piloted its rapid global expansion, is to become president of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a Frank Gehry-designed art museum slated to open in early 2013 on the leafy fringes of Paris.

LVMH said Carcelle would remain on the executive committee of the luxury giant and undertake “strategic roles” alongside Bernard Arnault, its chairman and ceo.

“I am delighted that Jordi Constans is joining the group. Initially, he will have the privilege of working with Yves Carcelle, who has led Louis Vuitton with remarkable success since 1990. I wish him the very best for the future success of this iconic brand within the LVMH Group,” Arnault stated.

Recruiting executives from the fast-moving consumer goods arena is nothing new. It was seen in Gucci Group’s appointment of Unilever ice cream honcho Robert Polet as its chief executive in 2004, and Estée Lauder’s choice of Procter & Gamble’s Fabrizio Freda in 2007.

Carcelle’s exit comes at a time when Vuitton’s artistic director, Marc Jacobs, is in talks to become the new couturier at Christian Dior. As reported Monday, negotiations are described as “tough,” with Dior officials balking at salary demands from the designer and his longtime business partner, Robert Duffy.

Jacobs, in marathon fittings ahead of his signature fashion show scheduled for tonight, could not be reached for comment on Carcelle’s departure.

Jacobs signed on with Vuitton in 1997 and the designer and Carcelle were seen as having a strong relationship as the leather goods firm expanded into ready-to-wear, ramping up its profile, buzz and global footprint.

An LVMH spokesman scoffed at the suggestion Carcelle’s plans to edge out of Vuitton are linked to the fact that Dior seems poised to poach his star talent. The spokesman declined, however, to comment on the prospect of designer musical chairs at the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate.

It is understood Arnault and LVMH have been quietly preparing a management succession plan at Vuitton for some time given that Carcelle, 63, is nearing retirement age, and that Vuitton is crucial to the group’s fortunes, accounting for the lion’s share of operating profits.

The conglomerate has also been known to bring in rising-star executives and train them for important roles, as it did in 2003 when it tapped Jean-Jacques Guiony from Lazard Frères and had him work under Patrick Houel before he succeeded Houel as LVMH’s chief financial officer.

Carcelle, slated to fly to Singapore today to attend the opening of the Louis Vuitton Island Maison at Marina Bay Sands, could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to Danone’s Web site, Constans is executive vice president of its fresh dairy products division and a member of its executive committee.

A Spanish national and graduate of business and economics from Barcelona’s Central University, he joined Danone in 1990 and held various positions in marketing and sales before becoming general manager for Spain in 2002 and France in 2004.

Well known for its yogurts, Danone is also a giant player in bottled water and baby food.

Carcelle, a driven, energetic and indefatigable executive with a thick crop of salt-and-pepper hair and a ready smile, traveled the world to scout, open and manage boutiques in such far-flung locations as Mongolia. He enjoyed a reputation as one of the most admired executives in the business as Vuitton consistently posted double-digit sales gains, opened ever-larger and more sumptuous boutiques and expanded into new categories of business such as eyewear, watches and fine jewelry.

Dead serious in business, Carcelle is known as a bon vivant in his off hours. His hobbies include sailing, and making his own wine and olive oil at his country home in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France.

A graduate of mathematics and business administration from elite French schools École Polytechnique and INSEAD, Carcelle joined LVMH in 1989 from French bedding giant Descamps, taking the helm of Vuitton a year later.

In the late Nineties, Carcelle relinquished the ceo position at Vuitton to take on a broader role in the LVMH group, overseeing brands including Loewe, Celine, Christian Lacroix, Givenchy, Kenzo, Berluti, Stefanobi, Marc Jacobs, Emilio Pucci, Fendi and Thomas Pink. He was seen as instrumental in LVMH’s investment of a one-third stake in Michael Kors in 1999 and its acquisition of Donna Karan International in 2001.

He returned to the helm of Vuitton in 2002 as it embarked on a powerful push into emerging markets such as China, South Korea and India.

LVMH unveiled the management change Wednesday after the markets closed in Paris, catching many in the industry by surprise.

As reported, shares in LVMH and Dior have seesawed with roiling global markets but without any rerating from equity analysts over the prospect of a change in artistic directors, given Dior’s relatively small footprint and Vuitton’s strength in leather goods, believed to generate more than 75 percent of Vuitton’s sales.

Still, speculation is bound to intensify on who might become the new designer dance partner of Constans.

It is understood Phoebe Philo remains at the top of the list of preferred candidates to succeed Jacobs at Vuitton should he move to Dior. However, the London-based designer, who has heated up Celine with her sleek, minimalist designs, has yet to commit to the project or enter negotiations.

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