PARIS — Geoffroy de La Bourdonnaye, who starts Wednesday as the new chief executive officer of Chloé, faces the challenge of reigniting the French brand’s once explosive growth.

This story first appeared in the August 30, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The former ceo of London specialty store Liberty plc, who also headed Christian Lacroix and had a long career at Disney, also fills the shoes of one of the most admired executives in the designer business, Ralph Toledano, who exits the firm after 11 years at the helm and a tenure recently rocked by turmoil in the design studio.

One of the most high-profile fashion properties of luxury giant Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, Chloé was once touted as having billion-dollar potential, but its momentum has sputtered in recent years.

On Friday, Chloé confirmed a report in WWD a day earlier by making de La Bourdonnaye’s appointment, trumpeting his “breadth of global branding and development experience across luxury and consumer industries” and his revitalization of Liberty, which, under his tenure, returned to profits for the first time in decades.

De la Bourdonnaye reports to Marty Wikstrom, who in May 2009 was named ceo of Richemont’s fashion and accessories businesses, also overseeing the Azzedine Alaïa, Alfred Dunhill, Lancel and Shanghai Tang businesses.

In a statement, Wikstrom thanked Toledano for “his tireless work to ensure Chloé’s position as a global leader in women’s ready-to-wear.”

No explanation was given for the management shift. In Richemont’s financial year ended March 31, Chloé remained profitable.

Wikstrom called de La Bourdonnaye a “seasoned leader with a proven track record of delivering performance and growth in highly creative environments.” She added that he brings “a depth of operational experience from sales, marketing and general management across relevant industries.”

De La Bourdonnaye stepped down at Liberty in June after a three-year stint following the purchase of the retailer by BlueGem Capital Partners LLP. He remains on Liberty’s board.

Under his purview, Liberty launched a slew of diverse collaborations — from ones with mass retailer Target to Hermès — which generated buzz and sales for its signature floral fabrics and its Regent Street store, which also underwent a partial redesign.

“It was great working with Geoffroy, he’s a great guy,” said Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty. “He strikes an excellent balance between being commercial and knowing how to drive editorial, that’s one of his amazing strengths. He has an amazing background in marketing, has been at a luxury house before and has been at this iconic retailer. When you put that all together, that’s a compelling reason that he’s the logical leader for [the Chloé] business.”

Prior to Liberty, de La Bourdonnaye was president of Christian Lacroix. He joined Lacroix, then owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, in 2003 after 11 years at Euro Disney, his last position at the entertainment giant being vice president and managing director of its merchandise and retail division. Before that, he worked in marketing and sales for food and fragrance firms.

A tall, soft-spoken man, de La Bourdonnaye ramped up his profile while at Liberty, hosting events during London Fashion Week and posing for photos with top editors, designers and retail peers. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

De La Bourdonnaye arrives at Chloé roughly a month before the brand’s Oct. 4 runway show, meaning he will have to quickly forge ties with current creative director Hannah MacGibbon, a painfully shy blonde who took the helm in 2008 and has also put her imprint on two fragrances. It is understood no immediate changes in the design department are anticipated.

Toledano joined Chloé in 1999 from Guy Laroche, where he was president since 1996, earning renown for recruiting a then-unknown talent from Geoffrey Beene, Alber Elbaz.

It was a return to the Richemont fold for Toledano, who had previously run the Karl Lagerfeld fashion business for 10 years, then with Chloé under Vendôme Luxury Group, the name previously given to Richemont’s luxury division.

Toledano exited Lagerfeld at the end of 1994 and spent two years consulting for European and American fashion houses, including Donna Karan.

Stella McCartney was in the designer seat at Chloé when Toledano arrived, but she left in 2001 to pursue a venture with Gucci Group. Toledano quickly named Phoebe Philo, part of McCartney’s creative team since 1997, as her successor, and the brand — which had shunned leather goods due to McCartney’s antifur stance — launched into the category, striking gold with the Paddington, an oblong handbag with a heavy gold lock.

Chloé bounded ahead as demand spiked for its hip-yet-girlish clothes, bags and shoes, with sales leaping fivefold in the period from 1999 to 2004, and Richemont injecting tens of millions of euros to fund an expansion drive.

Philo suddenly resigned in 2006, citing a desire to spend more time with her family and first-born child. Philo’s team took over until Toledano recruited Swedish designer Paolo Melim Andersson from the studio of Italian brand Marni. He showed three unsuccessful collections for the French house.

In 2008, Toledano went inside again, naming MacGibbon — who worked under Philo for five years and consulted on its signature perfume — Chloé’s new creative director.

Market sources have estimated the brand generates wholesale volume north of $300 million. But in recent years, Chloé has reined in its advertising spend and retail expansion amid muted fashion excitement around the brand, and stiff competition from luxury giants and hot contemporary chains.

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