By  on September 21, 2007

NEW YORK — The U.S. division of Christian Dior Couture has made its second change in top management in 17 months.

Pamela Baxter, president of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton's Perfume and Cosmetics Group, is adding the role of president of Christian Dior Inc. to her responsibilities, effective Oct. 1. Baxter is replacing Patricia Malone, who is leaving to pursue other interests.

According to a Dior statement, "The move reflects Dior's appreciation of Pamela Baxter's success in managing the North American perfumes and cosmetics business and it looks forward to her leadership in these expanded responsibilities."

Baxter is no stranger to the Dior brand. As the U.S. head of LVMH's perfume and cosmetics division, her areas include Christian Dior Perfumes as well as Guerlain and Parfums Givenchy. Baxter joined LVMH in 2003 from the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., where she was president of Lauder's Specialty Brands Group. Since then, the beauty industry veteran has been credited with transforming Dior's North American beauty business, which was sleepy and struggling, into a fashion-forward division by tightening its distribution to focus its image, and aligning it with the fashion heritage and the apparel's distribution.

"I have spent 30 years in the beauty industry, but fashion has been a passion of mine for a long time," Baxter said on Thursday. "I am pleased they are giving me this opportunity to build on these synergies in the world of Dior."

Baxter added that, while Dior is a fashion house, it has many facets with categories such as accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics and perfume. In her new role, she will be able to align the various divisions for a consistent message.

"It's a whole image-driven business that appeals to a woman and she buys into the whole Dior look," Baxter said. "This gives us an opportunity to align the brand and image from top to bottom."

The shift in top executives at Dior U.S. is the second in less than two years. In April 2006, Malone replaced Marla Sabo at the helm amid growing speculation Dior's U.S. sales were underperforming, a notion Dior executives have fervently denied in the past. Malone had been Gucci's president prior to joining Dior, and had worked for the Italian brand for 17 years, through Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole's revival and exit."Patricia Malone will be stepping down from her responsibilities as president and chief operating officer of Christian Dior Inc. in order to pursue other opportunities," the Dior statement said. "Dior thanks Patricia Malone for her contributions to its North American activities."

In July, Christian Dior Couture reported that sales in the first half grew 12 percent to 368 million euros, or $489.2 million, while operating profits soared to 28 million euros, or $37.2 million, from 8 million euros, or $10.1 million, last year. Sidney Toledano, president of Christian Dior, said sales had been robust in Asia, Japan and Europe.

There are 22 freestanding Dior stores in the U.S., as well as wholesale distribution in upscale department and specialty stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

Dior does not break down sales by geographic region. That said, the U.S. business has in the past been estimated at 20 percent of Dior's overall business, and with Asia, it is said to present the largest growth potential for the company, particularly in the handbags and footwear areas.

In the past year, Dior has been putting more emphasis on building its profile in the U.S. For two seasons, it has staged elaborate runway shows in New York to unveil its resort collection to editors and buyers, flying in creative director John Galliano.

Meanwhile, Dior earlier this week inaugurated its redesigned flagship on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. The store, designed by Peter Marino, takes luxury to a higher level with silk carpets handwoven in Tibet, fitting rooms wallpapered in embossed metallic leather and a slew of artworks and custom furnishings.

The exit of Malone is the second management shake-up at a European fashion house in the last 10 days. Last week, Giorgio Armani Corp. chief executive Bridget Ryan Berman left to pursue other interests. Two days later, Matteo Mascazzini, chief operating officer of Armani's U.S. division, left to return to Italy and become controller of the Gucci division of Gucci Group. He was replaced on an interim basis by Daniele Ballestrazzi, formerly of Versace.

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