LONDON — Change is afoot in the creative, and executive, ranks of Europe’s big fashion and luxury brands, a sign that the cult of the hotshot designer is becoming ever more powerful — and that corporate bosses are still figuring out how to handle them.
After months of speculation, Chloé confirmed Monday that Clare Waight Keller will exit the brand in March, and WWD has learned that she has another job lined up — and, despite speculation, it’s not at Burberry or Céline.
As first reported by WWD in December, Waight Keller is likely to be succeeded at Chloé by Natacha Ramsay-Levi, a key associate of Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton.
Although Chloé would not comment on the likelihood of her appointment, it is understood that Ghesquière has been supportive of Natacha Ramsay-Levi taking the Chloé job, and that her post will be filled internally at Vuitton.
Ramsay-Levi started her fashion career at Balenciaga in 2002, and rose through the design ranks to become Ghesquière’s top design deputy. When the Frenchman exited Balenciaga in 2013, she went on to consult for several brands, including Hermès and Acne Studios, before rejoining Ghesquière at Vuitton, according to a Paris source.
Recently, more changes have swept the Continent: Earlier this month, WWD reported that Riccardo Tisci could leave Givenchy for Versace, while Pablo Coppola has exited Bally as management re-jigs the strategy at the house. He will be succeeded by a creative team that will be based between Milan and Caslano, Switzerland.
Some industry observers believe the revolving door of creatives has to do with the cult of the hot designer — and the studio talent they’re able to attract.
“Nowadays, people follow the designer, not the brand or the house. Instead of wanting to work for a certain company, everybody says: ‘We want to work with X, Y or Z.’ They want to work with ‘the boss,’” said Emma Davidson, owner and chief executive officer of Denza, the fashion recruitment firm based in London.
“Even the companies are asking us for creative directors who are really cool, who go to parties, get loads of attention on Instagram, and are friends with the top ‘It’ girls. They’re not [necessarily] asking for the best designer,” she added. “If Ricardo does go to Versace, the brand will blow up once he’s there. People are loyal to him — to where he’s been. These designers are like pop stars.”
Lewis Alexander, founder of the namesake headhunting and consulting firm who has placed creative directors and ceo’s at Saint Laurent Paris, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs, said he believes part of the change stems from a disconnect between stakeholders and designers.
He said corporate owners often don’t understand the creative process, and don’t give enough resources to the creative director, yet still expect them to deliver money and results.
Alexander said that, in some cases, one design team is expected to churn out multiple collections a year, whereas a company like Céline has separate teams working on runway and pre-season collections.
“In extreme cases, the design team will have a week to come up with a concept, which means they go straight on Instagram,” he said. “And the work doesn’t stop. After the holidays, they’re back in the design studio on Jan. 1 — that’s not good for them or for the consumer. They need to give talent room to deliver.”
Waight Keller clearly had a good run at Chloé, which she joined in 2011 after stints at Pringle of Scotland and Gucci, and it remains to be seen which designers will flock to her future design studio. On Monday, a Burberry spokesman denied she was joining the brand, while industry sources confirmed she’s not going to Céline either, where Phoebe Philo remains in place. Waight Keller did not return phone calls on Monday.
Chloé said it plans to celebrate the designer, who followed in the footsteps of Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Philo, with an after-party on the evening of her last show. “Clare has a unique talent in directing a large studio of strong creatives. I would like to personally thank Clare for her loyalty and dedication to Chloé,” said ceo Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye. In a statement, Waight Keller said working at Chloé was one of the most rewarding experiences of her career.
In its interim report for the six months ended Sept. 30, Chloé’s parent, Compagnie Financière Richemont, said the brand notched double-digit sales growth driven by leather and most geographic regions. “Clare Waight Keller’s collections continue to receive both critical and commercial acclaim. The ready-to-wear and bags categories performed well, the Drew bag playing a key role in the bags revival,” wrote de la Bourdonnaye.
Parent of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, Richemont is known for its specialist watchmakers such as IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, along with fashion and luxury houses including Dunhill and Azzedine Alaïa.
Chloé isn’t the only Richemont brand in flux. On Monday, the luxury giant confirmed that Andrew Maag will replace Fabrizio Cardinali as ceo of Dunhill. Maag was formerly Burberry’s ceo of Europe, Middle East, India and Africa. Cardinali joined in 2013 and his exit comes amid a major change and restructuring at the brand, which shuttered 33 stores in the six months to Sept 30.
As part of its succession plans — and as the dynamics of the watch industry change due to a decline in demand — Richemont has confirmed management changes in its watch businesses. Chabi Nouri, who is managing director for marketing and sales at Piaget, will take over from Philippe Leopold-Metzger when he retires and becomes non-executive president on April 1.
Louis Ferla, managing director for marketing and sales at Vacheron Constantin, will take over from Juan-Carlos Torres when he retires on April 1. He will also become non-executive president.
Georges Kern, meanwhile, will assume the responsibility of ceo ad interim of Jaeger-LeCoultre when Daniel Riedo departs on Feb. 28. Geoffroy Lefebvre, managing director of operations for Vacheron Constantin, will be appointed deputy ceo of Jaeger-LeCoultre.
As reported in November, Richemont unveiled a management restructuring, with Johann Rupert remaining as chairman and relying on senior executives to run the newly reorganized structure. Burkhart Grund, deputy chief financial officer, will become chief financial officer, while Kern will be head of watchmaking, marketing and digital, a new position.
Jérôme Lambert, ceo of Montblanc, will be head of operations, responsible for central and regional services and all product divisions, other than jewelry and watchmaking. All will join the board, in addition to Nicolas Bos, ceo of Van Cleef & Arpels.