PARIS — LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is preparing to rev up Loewe, the 160-year-old Spanish brand known for its leather goods.
The French luxury firm, which operates brands from Louis Vuitton to Celine, has tapped Stuart Vevers, the design director for Mulberry, to replace Jose Enrique Ona Selfa, the Belgian designer who held the creative top spot at the house for the last six years.
"Stuart fit the profile perfectly of what we wanted," said Pierre-Yves Roussel, chief executive officer of LVMH's fashion division. "We have been making operational changes at the brand recently. Now we want to emphasize Loewe's strong point — leather goods — with someone who can make desirable handbags."
Roussel called Vevers just the specialist required, having already proved his mettle while working at LVMH brands Givenchy and Louis Vuitton. "We were sorry to see Stuart go [to Mulberry] and we're very happy he's agreed to come back [to LVMH]," said Roussel.
Vevers, who is British, will join Loewe in January and be based in Madrid on a full-time basis. As for Ona Selfa, his swan song for the house will be a runway show in Paris in October, Roussel said.
Since he joined the company, Ona Selfa adopted a middle-of-the-road stylistic approach, with no-nonsense ready-to-wear and accessories that recycled many of the prevalent trends without making headlines.
Roussel said the goal was to generate energy at Loewe by investing in its development and consolidating its place in the accessories business.
"We want to build on the house's personality and difference," said Roussel, citing Loewe's long history in leather goods, which make up about 80 percent of sales.
Roussel said Vevers would oversee all of Loewe's creative aspects, including rtw. He said a presentation of Vevers' first creations — probably focusing on leather goods — was planned for March.
Underscoring LVMH's commitment to build the brand, Roussel said a new Loewe showroom in Paris was slated to open in September.
Recently, Loewe has shown potential. Roussel said sales of bags have grown around 20 percent a year the last few years.At present, Loewe runs some 120 stores around the world, including 40 boutiques in Japan and 10 in China. While the brand is best known in Europe and Asia, Roussel said America was a priority.
"We want to double the size of the company in the next five years," he added.
Vevers did not return phone calls on Wednesday. Mulberry confirmed his departure in a statement in which the company's chief operating officer, Lisa Montague, said: "I've loved working with Stuart, who is a great designer. He has built a strong team, bringing a wealth of talent to the brand, and the search is now on to find a suitable successor to take Mulberry to the next level."
Vevers' first collection for Mulberry bowed for spring 2006.
In addition to designing Mulberry's core collections of accessories and rtw, he ratcheted up buzz by collaborating with designers including Luella Bartley and Giles Deacon on collections for the British firm. He also has been the life of the Mulberry parties, often taking over as DJ. Earlier this month, Vevers and Deacon DJed in Paris at a party to celebrate the opening of Mulberry's Rue Saint-Honoré store in Paris.
Before joining Mulberry, Vevers designed accessories for companies including Louis Vuitton — he worked closely with Marc Jacobs — Givenchy, Luella, Calvin Klein and Bottega Veneta. He also designed his own signature accessories line, and most recently worked with Henry Holland on a collection of canvas tote bags featuring Holland's cheeky one-liners in DayGlo letters.
In November, Vevers won the prize for accessories designer of the year at the annual British Fashion Awards at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Mulberry's succession plans for Vevers could not be learned.
For LVMH, his appointment reflects the luxury giant's commitment to grow its so-called smaller brands. Roussel earlier this year was given the task of improving the fortunes of LVMH's smaller fashion labels, including Celine, Givenchy, Kenzo and Pucci.
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