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Valérie Hermann Steps Down as YSL’s Chief Executive

Her successor, former Lanvin ceo Paul Deneve, will arrive at the management helm in mid-April.

PARIS — Valérie Hermann —who partnered with designer Stefano Pilati to restore Yves Saint Laurent to profitable growth — is passing the baton, WWD has learned.

Chief executive officer at the French fashion house since 2005, Hermann assisted in recruiting her successor, former Lanvin ceo Paul Deneve, who will arrive at the management helm in mid-April.

Hermann said she plans to remain at YSL through the upcoming fall-winter 2011 sales campaign before moving to the United States to take up a new challenge outside of PPR, parent of the Gucci Group luxury division of which YSL is part.

She declined to identify her next step, and the identity of her next employer could not immediately be learned.

Emblematic of an amicable parting, she joined PPR chairman and ceo François-Henri Pinault in his Avenue Hoche office Wednesday for a joint interview to discuss the change ahead of PPR’s annual results presentation today.

Pinault announced the executive change at the meeting, also attended by Pilati, and highlighted a swing to profitability for YSL in 2010, to 11.6 million euros, or $15.4 million, versus a loss of 9.8 million euros, or $13.9 million, in 2009.

Chief financial officer Jean-François Palus noted that the lion’s share of the profit gain came from progress at the fashion house, not from licensing royalties.

Joining YSL from Christian Dior and John Galliano, Hermann was saddled with an expensive network of boutiques that was built during the Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole era, and ahead of sufficient demand for fashions from the storied brand.

After acquiring YSL in 1999, Gucci Group immediately applied its then-mantra of direct control for production and distribution, terminating more than 150 licenses and establishing a global network of stores in top locations. But that radical attempt to engineer a Gucci-esque rejuvenation drove YSL deeply into the red.

Bantering with Hermann, a former classmate at the elite French business school HEC, Pinault cited her “emotional and professional” attachment to the brand, and lauded her for building YSL’s product portfolio, particularly with leather goods and footwear, to build sales density in its stores. At the same time, she reduced the company’s cost structure, including closing certain doors, among them Chicago and a Manhattan unit on Madison Avenue, without endangering the brand’s image and visibility, Pinault said.

Accessories now account for about 74 percent of YSL’s sales, thanks to hit shoes like the Tribute and Tribtoo and bags including the Muse Two and Roady styles.

The next phase at YSL, Pinault said, will involve expanding the brand’s retail footprint, with significant flagships in Shanghai and at 53 Avenue Montaigne here among marquee openings slated for later this year or early 2012.

“Now, starting this year, we have a store opening program that is significant,” Pinault said. “We are entering a new phase that will be mainly focused on the worldwide development of the brand through product categories and regions.”

YSL currently has 78 directly operated stores, far fewer than larger rivals such as Chanel and Dior.

On Wednesday, Hermann reiterated that her working relationship with Pilati, who succeeded Ford at the helm of YSL in 2004, was key to the turnaround. “I am delighted to have built this with Stefano,” she said. “I have a great professional respect for the PPR group, as well as François-Henri and his father on a personal level.”

That said, “It’s the right time to take on another challenge,” she continued. “The team that is in place is a good team. I pass the brand in a harmonious way.”

Before joining LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, as president of John Galliano and director of women’s ready-to-wear at Dior, Hermann was president and ceo of Jacques Fath. She started her career at the Comité Colbert, the Paris-based luxury goods trade association.

Deneve, meanwhile, is best known for his three-year tenure heading Lanvin, overseeing explosive growth for the French brand under creative director Alber Elbaz.

Deneve joined Lanvin as deputy general manager in 2006 from Nina Ricci, where he had been president. He has also been general manager of Courrèges, and worked at Apple and Exxon prior to that. He exited Lanvin in early 2009 amidst what Lanvin called “diverging points of view” on the direction of the company, which is controlled by Taiwanese publishing magnate Shaw-Lan Wang. In the interim, Deneve returned to school and received an M.B.A. from Stanford University.

Pinault said Deneve would arrive at YSL with a “fresh mind” and point of view on the luxury business, as well as armed with proven operation skills to lead YSL through a new growth phase. “He’s a team leader,” he added.