PARIS — Foreshadowing a new strategy and brand architecture at Donna Karan International, parent LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has tapped Caroline Brown to become chief executive officer of the New York-based fashion house, effective Jan. 15.
This confirms a report in WWD on Sept. 25, and signals that the French luxury giant is stepping up efforts with its American brands.
“We find that the U.S. is a superinteresting market,” said Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and ceo of LVMH Fashion Group, who recently added Donna Karan to the roster of houses under his purview and who is to become its chairman. “It starts from having the right ceo’s and building a team around that so we can be as successful as we’ve been in Europe on a lot of projects.”
Roussel is also chairman of Marc Jacobs International, and recently moved Givenchy’s Sebastian Suhl, a rising star in the French luxury group, to helm that New York-based brand.
The executive noted Suhl and Brown — who is stepping down as president of Carolina Herrera at the end of the year — are American nationals with broad international experience.
He lauded Brown’s “understanding of fashion” and close connections to the young generation of American designers.
Roussel noted that her appointment dovetails with a new shareholding and management configuration at Marc Jacobs, with the designer now fully devoted to his signature house, setting the stage for that company “to move forward.”
“We’re looking at those two projects as being very important to us. We really want to get to the heart and the depth of what has made those brands successful….Yes, you have to have the right resources, but it’s more about having the time, the clarity and the direction,” he said. “We’re not going to replicate what we’ve been doing in Europe.”
Roussel has been spending about a third of his time in the U.S. recently to better familiarize himself with the market.
He said he intends to partner with Brown — and the founding designer — to find the right path to catapult Donna Karan International, including deciding “what we want to keep, and what we want to discontinue.
“We’re probably doing too many things in too many directions, and in my experience, it’s much better to do fewer things, but to do them really well….The brand architecture has to be looked at. I think it has to be clarified,” he said, alluding to the plethora of subbrands and capsules that have sprouted over the years.
He described Donna Karan and DKNY as “powerful” brands, their significant fragrance businesses with the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. a testament to that. He highlighted that DKNY carries a lot of the licensed business, which is unusual, since it’s often the first line that does that at other fashion companies.
“We have a wonderful fragrance business from DKNY, a great eyewear business, a great watch business, all with great partners,” Roussel said. “So it is a very powerful brand and it captures the essence of New York. I think there are very few brands that can claim that.”
Roussel, who joined LVMH in 2004 from management consultancy McKinsey & Co., has a strong track record of igniting fashion excitement, and business traction, at the French group’s so-called second-tier brands, which often operate in the shadow of major names such as Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Fendi.
He was appointed head of the fashion division in 2007, signaling a commitment to grow LVMH’s smaller brands. Roussel famously recruited Phoebe Philo, who imposed a successful minimalist makeover at Céline, and Opening Ceremony duo Humberto Leon and Carol Lim to give a young, contemporary spin to Kenzo. He recently placed 30-year-old Jonathan Anderson at the creative helm of Spanish leather goods brand Loewe, and LVMH took a 46 percent stake in his London-based J.W. Anderson fashion house.
Other European fashion houses under Roussel’s purview include Givenchy, Emilio Pucci and Nicholas Kirkwood.
Brown is to succeed Mark Weber, who has been DKI’s chairman and ceo since 2006, with Weber becoming a consultant to LVMH.
While the luxury group intends to reinforce the “strong” and distinct identities of the Donna Karan and DKNY brands, Roussel said it’s too early to talk about any changes in creative leadership.
“We’ll be looking at everything,” he said. “We are challenging ourselves; there is nothing taboo, and each time we do projects, we are willing to change what needs to be changed. And we’re doing it openly with Donna, who has built an incredible brand.
“The brand carries her name, so she’s part of it, whatever shape and form it will take, there’s no question,” he continued. “Then in what creative configuration, we’ll see, but I think she can still bring a lot.”
Roussel acknowledged that LVMH has not maximized the expansion potential of DKI, since completing its acquisition in 2001. LVMH paid $243 million for all outstanding shares in DKI, plus $400 million for Gabrielle Studio Inc., the licensor of the Donna Karan trademarks.
“We’ve grown the brand nicely, we’ve invested, but we’ve not made a step change,” he said. “We make a step change when we feel we have the equation right, like we did with Céline or with others.”
The decision to close Karan’s Madison Avenue store should not be read as a sign of retrenchment, Roussel contended, noting that store closures have been part of rejuvenation efforts for Céline and Givenchy.
“We had to have a fresh start in a way, and sometimes a store that could have been a great store 10 years ago has lost its energy and so on,” he said, explaining that it’s sometimes more effective to embark on a new strategy with a new location.
At Jacobs, Roussel has said immediate projects would likely include ramping up e-commerce, expanding the brand’s retail footprint in the U.S. and developing the footwear category, recently taken in-house.
Philippe Fortunato, most recently president and ceo of Vuitton’s North Asia region, succeeded Suhl at the management helm of Givenchy.
Brown’s successor at Herrera has yet to be named. Before Herrera, Brown was ceo of Akris U.S., and before that, senior vice president of marketing and communications, U.S., for Giorgio Armani.