PARIS — Gucci Thursday announced that Tom Ford would take over as women’s ready-to-wear designer at Yves Saint Laurent, confirming a report in these pages. And now that things are nailed down over at the fashion house, YSL’s new owner is ready to focus on the fragrance business.
WWD has learned that Gucci Group is courting — and may have already landed — Chantal Roos, one of the most high-profile and talented executives in the beauty industry. Roos would run Parfums YSL, in what would be deja vu: She did a 14-year stint with the company that ended in 1990 when she was international marketing director. While there, she launched one of the most successful blockbuster designer fragrances, Opium.
Roos, who has scored creative and commercial successes with the Issey Miyake and Jean Paul Gaultier fragrance brands, is currently the president of Beaute Prestige International, a unit of Shiseido.
Asked about Roos late Thursday, Gucci chief executive Domenico De Sole said through a spokesman: “At this point we cannot confirm this.”
Roos was in New York preparing for the U.S. launch party for the Gaultier fragrance Fragile tonight and could not be reached for comment.
On the fashion front, the Gucci company statement Thursday said that YSL, which Gucci acquired in November, and Alber Elbaz, who showed his third collection for the house earlier in the week, had reached a mutual agreement to terminate his contract. Terms of the settlement were not revealed.
Tom Ford will become the designer for the women’s line and will show his first Rive Gauche collection here in October. He also will be creative director for the entire house, overseeing everything from men’s to accessories and stores, as well as YSL fragrances. YSL men’s designer Hedi Slimane, who is reportedly considering quitting the house, reports to Ford.
The statement also said that Ford would continue in his current post as creative director for Gucci. A spokesman refuted published reports Thursday suggesting a successor had been named to design for Gucci. “That report is incorrect and untrue,” he said, adding that Ford was beefing up the design teams throughout the group.
The statement said Elbaz was currently considering other opportunities. He could not be reached for comment. WWD obtained a copy of a letter by Yves Saint Laurent sent to Elbaz Thursday. “I know that you are leaving the house with a wonderfully successful collection and I am delighted for you,” Saint Laurent wrote in the handwritten note.
De Sole also paid respect to the outgoing designer. “Alber Elbaz contributed in a significant way to the history of Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche,” he said. “We wish him a future filled with success.”
YSL-watching has become a favorite sport for fashion and beauty insiders in recent months so it was not surprising that rumors of Roos’s recruitment attempt by Saint Laurent quickly swept Paris this week. “I heard from three completely different people she was leaving BPI and has been hired by Gucci to run Yves Saint Laurent,” said one well-placed source late Thursday. Other Paris beauty executives said they had heard the same.
YSL fragrances are part of the beauty group that Gucci acquired from the French pharmaceuticals firm Sanofi Beaute last year. The division also includes Oscar de la Renta and Van Cleef & Arpels fragrances. It could not be learned if Roos was being courted to run all the brands or only YSL.
Gucci teamed up with the diversified French retailer Pinault-Printemps-Redoute last year to fend off a hostile takeover attempt by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. At the same time, it acquired Saint Laurent as part of a strategy by Gucci and PPR to form a new luxury goods conglomerate to rival LVMH.
In the midst of the talk about Roos, there may also be action on the Gucci fragrance front. The company’s own fragrance license is locked up for some 20 more years with German hair care giant Wella. Now, according to industry insiders, Gucci may be close to gaining more control over that business. Sources say Gucci is considering acquiring Wella’s fragrance division, which also includes Rochas and Anna Sui, or converting its license to something that resembles a joint venture.
From the moment the Gucci/Sanofi deal was announced, Roos was keen on the idea of a new Gucci luxury group. “I like what I know about the group,” she told WWD in April in an interview. “I think they have understood a key thing about the luxury goods industry: You must respect creative autonomy.”
Creativity has been Roos’s watchword in signing and developing licenses with Miyake and Gaultier. In 1992, her L’Eau d’Issey pioneered new olfactive and packaging trends and even competitors admired the clever — and oh so Gaultier — tin-can packaging for the French designer. Her selling approach, with a limited distribution and absolutely no gift-with-purchase promotions, was innovative too and has been widely imitated by others.
Even at YSL, she made her mark. She is particularly credited with masterminding YSL’s Opium, which at the time of its launch in 1977 went against the grain, not only with its rich scent but also with its provocative name.
Roos’s ascent has been phenomenal in a profession dominated by men.
She began her career in 1970 as a marketing assistant at Coty Perfumes, then quickly moved on to Parfums YSL, where she shot up the ladder over 14 years. During her tenure there, she went from director of training, market studies/analysis and public relations to executive vice president and managing director of France for Parfums YSL.
By the time she left for BPI in 1990, she was international marketing director for all perfumes and cosmetics.