LONDON — Gucci Group is losing a star in Tom Ford, and now the plan is to create four new bright lights.

Pinault-Printemps-Redoute will announce next week that Alessandra Facchinetti, Alfreda Giannini and John Ray will helm Gucci, while Stefano Pilati will take up the design reins at Yves Saint Laurent, sources told WWD on Wednesday.

All four designers are Ford-trained, and sources say PPR’s plan is to promote them as rising talents — and give them their fair share of the spotlight.

Serge Weinberg, chief executive of PPR, declined to comment on the expected appointments.

Meanwhile, Gucci on Wednesday named Alexis Babeau chief financial officer, replacing Robert Singer, a longtime Gucci executive who resigned this week — a move expected since last November. Singer, who was also executive vice president of Gucci, will step down at the end of April, along with Ford and Gucci Group chief Domenico De Sole.

Babeau is chief financial officer and general counsel at Finaref, a credit and financial services company formerly owned by PPR and now controlled by Credit Agricole SA.

Regarding the Gucci and YSL creative teams, all the designers have worked alongside Ford, and some — like Pilati — are personal friends.

Facchinetti is the number-one designer under Ford in Gucci’s women’s wear division. She had been fashion coordinator at Miu Miu, and will take over the women’s wear design at Gucci.

“She’s the ideal person to head a team because she’s focused, knows how to construct a collection, how to emphasize details,” said a source close to Gucci. “She’s also very dedicated.”

Giannini, who will become accessories chief, came to Gucci from Fendi, working initially on silk lines before tackling accessories during her three-year tenure there. Giannini is said to have been instrumental in creating the horsebit handbag that reignited Gucci sales last fall.

Ray is Ford’s main assistant in men’s wear, and had previously worked for Katharine Hamnett. He studied at London’s Royal College of Art and will oversee the men’s line.

Pilati is currently women’s design director at YSL and is widely considered one of the group’s unsung talents. He also worked at Prada and Miu Miu before joining YSL in 2001.It is believed that Ford and Gucci brand president and managing director Giacomo Santucci were carefully grooming these people — and others on the design team — to eventually replace Ford. As reported, the original plan was for Ford to take over as chairman and chief executive of Gucci Group when De Sole retired some time in the next few years.

It is believed De Sole’s advice has recently been solicited by the selection committee, which consists of Weinberg, Artemis chairman François-Henri Pinault and Gucci supervisory board member Adrian Bellamy.

While the likelihood of the foursome becoming individual design stars is up for debate, it’s clear Gucci Group has produced designers to watch, including Burberry’s Christopher Bailey and Calvin Klein women’s wear designer Francisco Costa.

The importance of superstar versus unknown designer to a brand has been a hot-button topic at PPR and in various media, while this season’s fascination with the Gucci saga knows no bounds. Several publications have been quick to tout the end of the star designer era, with the departure of Ford. On Wednesday, Weinberg lent credence to the argument in the Wall Street Journal Europe. “No one talks about Miuccia Prada,” he said. “No one knows it’s [she] who designs the brand.”

Although there are those who might disagree with that Ford. On Wednesday, Weinberg lent credence to the argument in the Wall Street Journal Europe. “No one talks about Miuccia Prada,” he said. “No one knows it’s [she] who designs the brand.”

Although there are those who might disagree with that specific example, the industry is divided on how important it is for a marquee name to be attached to a brand.

In fact, both Prada and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, chief executive of Prada Group, declined to comment specifically on Weinberg’s remark, but Bertelli told WWD: “There is no doubt the designer of a brand is important. Since Jil Sander returned to her namesake brand last year, we have witnessed great results in terms of overall brand image and increased orders. We couldn’t be happier to have her back.”

That happiness has been hard-won and represents quite a shift in perspective for Bertelli. After falling out with Sander five months after purchasing her company in 1999, Bertelli (now famously) declared: “The individual fashion designer is less important than the company. How many designers can launch a collection without being a business? A designer label is a private label, and that label dies when the designer goes, unless it is a company.”On the flip side — or the anti-star camp — Max Mara has relied on a low-key design team for the last 53 years, and is one of Italy’s most profitable fashion houses.

“We worked with famous designers, but we didn’t need their names,” Luigi Maramotti, chairman at Max Mara, saidlast year. “At the end of the day, our mission is to make the best product possible. It’s dangerous for a company that says it makes fashion to assign the most important task to just one person.”

This week, designer Hussein Chalayan, who is parting ways with Asprey next month, said: “Having one star designer is a very old-fashioned approach to the business — unless the business started out that way. I think the team approach is much more modern —especially for my generation. A chief designer can have a strong personal vision, but without a team, nothing happens.”

Meanwhile, sources confirmed that under PPR, all of Gucci Group’s divisions will be run independently, with power most likely to shift from the chief executive to each individual brand chief.

Furthermore, sources say the person who takes over De Sole’s role as chief executive of the group will have a more limited role than De Sole. It is believed PPR has whittled down its global search to two executives, both from sectors other than fashion and luxury.

“It’s clear Weinberg wants to be in the spotlight, he wants to be the one talking to the media, he wants to be the protagonist. I honestly cannot imagine anyone with a strong personality taking on the job of Gucci Group chief right now.”

Another source said there would be no immediate changes to the Gucci portfolio — although the new and newly acquired brands, such as Bottega Veneta and Stella McCartney, will be under increasing pressure to move into the black. “The plan is not to sell these brands now,” said the source. “but there will be pressure on management to turn a profit very quickly.”

— WWD Staff

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