NEW YORK — Bernd Beetz made his first major hire as chairman of St. John Knits, poaching a senior executive from the luxury leather goods world.

This story first appeared in the July 23, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On Monday, Beetz, who also invested in the Irvine, Calif.-based company, named Geoffroy van Raemdonck St. John’s new chief executive officer, succeeding Glenn McMahon, whose departure after six years was announced earlier this month.

Van Raemdonck joined from Louis Vuitton, where he was president, South Europe, based in Milan. In that role, he was responsible for the brand’s operations in 22 countries. Previously, he was acting president at Vuitton’s North American division. He also worked in senior positions at Limited Brands and The Boston Consulting Group.

“Geoffroy has an unparalleled understanding of global wholesale and retail that will be integral as we move into the next phase of the company’s history,” Beetz said. “He is an excellent leader to drive the executive team and to continue to strengthen and grow the business worldwide.”

Reached late on Monday, van Raemdonck said there are multiple reasons he was drawn to the brand.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity and a great team to join,” he noted. “The very interesting thing for me is the fact that it is such an iconic American brand. There are not many of those that have 50 years of heritage and such a strong brand anchor with its own craftsmanship around the American lifestyle.”

The hire comes at a significant time of change for St. John. In addition to Beetz, who officially became St. John chairman last week, Chinese company Fosun International invested in the American knitwear house, and potential for much growth is widely considered to come from the Asia region. Vestar Capital Partners continues to be the majority investor.

Beetz, the hard-charging executive who played an instrumental role in transforming Coty Inc. during his tenure at ceo and reviving the celebrity fragrance industry, is expected to “coach” van Raemdonck in his new role.

Beetz told WWD last week that St. John has “the potential of enormous global reach.”

He noted that between Vestar, Fosun and him, there are different skill sets that will serve the future of St. John well. “I know a little bit about branding; I know a little bit about organizational building,” Beetz said. “Fosun brings in knowledge about the Chinese market, and I will form a strong team and do the right thing to really advance a great brand.”

Van Raemdonck will work out of St. John’s New York and Irvine offices, though his main base will be here. The search for McMahon’s successor was conducted by Herbert Mines Associates, and among the new executive’s tasks is to expand the brand internationally and grow freestanding stores as well as new classifications. Beetz stressed that the brand’s heritage — going back to how Marie Gray founded it — will play a significant role in the St. John strategy.

“Bernd and I share the same view that we should give ourselves the time to really understand the fundamentals and go back to the brand DNA,” van Raemdonck said. “The first vision is threefold. One is to strengthen the brand and tell the story. It’s also expanding internationally, and into other categories. The order and steps to take are too early to say. The team has started some great things, and part of it is working and understanding what has been done, and taking it further.”

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