By  on January 5, 2005

PARIS — Gucci Group has poached a senior manager of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton as the new head of its Yves Saint Laurent division.

WWD has learned that Valerie Hermann, president of John Galliano, director of women’s ready-to-wear at Christian Dior and a veteran LVMH manager, is switching luxury camps and joining Gucci’s ailing fashion jewel, YSL, as president and chief executive officer.

She will succeed Mark Lee, October was moved over from YSL to become president and managing director of the Gucci brand.

Hermann could not be reached for comment and a spokesman for Gucci Group parent Pinault-Printemps-Redoute declined all comment Tuesday.

However, sources said an official announcement could be made as early as today. According to sources, Hermann is expected to start at YSL sometime in the second quarter.

Hermann’s appointment fills a high-profile vacancy at Gucci Group, which has been rocked by executive defections in the wake of last year’s departures of Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole. The appointment of Hermann — considered a dynamic merchant and talented manager — should allay investor jitters about YSL and lend credence to PPR’s repeated assurances that it has the ability to attract top candidates to its stable of luxury brands, which also includes Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Sergio Rossi.

Still, the raid could rankle the brass at LVMH, given the bad blood between it and rival PPR after the two French groups waged a nasty takeover war for Gucci in 1999. Only last year, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault took an implied shot at PPR and its strategy for Gucci.

But Hermann, 41, will have other battles to fight, namely turning around one of the most storied names in fashion after a radical attempt to engineer a Gucci-esque rejuvenation that drove YSL deeply into the red. Losses ballooned to 76.4 million euros, or $101.8 million at current exchange, last year, and Gucci Group ceo Robert Polet has yet to pinpoint a break-even target for the French fashion and accessories firm.

“We’ve done it two times before, and I won’t make that mistake again,” Polet said last month when he presented his strategic plan for the group. “When we get close, I will alert you to the fact.”He did say YSL would likely turn profitable when revenues reach about 300 million to 350 million euros, or $405 million to $472.5 million, roughly double the 2003 total of 154 million euros. “We need to define as quickly as possible the ‘sweet spot’ at YSL,” Polet added, using a popular tennis analogy.

Hermann is expected to continue a turnaround plan initiated by Lee and YSL designer Stefano Pilati, who succeeded Ford and received poor reviews for his debut solo effort last October. That plan hinges on adding more daywear, broadening the price spectrum and capitalizing on iconic YSL designs such as the tuxedo, peasant blouse and safari jacket.

Since joining Galliano in 1996, Hermann helped to commercialize one of the most outlandish designers in the business. She successfully expanded the Galliano brand into handbags, footwear, lingerie, eyewear and — most recently — men’s wear. At present, brand sales are said to be growing at about 25 percent annually.

She has developed a close relationship with Galliano, with whom she also works in her position as head of women’s ready-to-wear at Dior. She added that title in 1998, coordinating the work of Galliano’s design studio, the production team and the sales department.

Before joining LVMH, Hermann was president and ceo of the fashion house Jacques Fath. She started her fashion career at the Comite Colbert, the Paris-based luxury goods trade association.

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