Kaia Gerber and models on the catwalkChloe show, Runway, Fall Winter 2020, Paris Fashion Week, France - 27 Feb 2020

LONDON — In a sign it is getting more serious about its soft luxury and fashion businesses, Richemont has recruited veteran LVMH executive Philippe Fortunato, according to market sources.

Fortunato, most recently chief executive officer of Givenchy, is poised to become head of Richemont’s fashion and accessories maisons, which include Chloé, Dunhill, Maison Alaïa and the golf and luxury performance apparel brand Peter Millar.

Richemont is the parent of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc and a bevy of luxury watch brands including A. Lange & Söhne and IWC. Last fall it entered into a joint venture with designer Alber Elbaz known as AZfashion, a from-scratch project aimed at wardrobe “solutions” for women.

The Geneva-based luxury giant confirmed the hire on Tuesday, and said Fortunato will start work on Sept. 1.

Most recently, Fortunato spent six years helming Givenchy. A dynamic and seasoned executive, he worked with two creative directors, Riccardo Tisci and Clare Waight Keller, and made a host of changes at the French brand: He ramped up retail expansion, brought couture back to the runway, oversaw the brand’s e-commerce debut, and put the spotlight on its men’s wear division with a slate of initiatives.

He exited the French house in March, and was mum about his plans. He will bring much retail excellence, brand building and creative management expertise to Richemont’s smallest division, which has traditionally underperformed the powerhouse watch and jewelry segments of the business.

Prior to Givenchy, Fortunato had been president and ceo of the North Asia region of Louis Vuitton, and was seen as a high-potential manager at the luxury giant. He has also been managing director of Fendi, and worked for Christian Dior and Vuitton in China.

Earlier in his career, Fortunato spent two years in the French navy, after which he worked for French lingerie firm Chantelle and the Dubai-based retailer Chalhoub Group.

Fortunato is to take up responsibilities previously held by Eric Vallat, who exited Richemont’s fashion and accessories division in September 2019, a little over a year after taking up the job. Vallat was later named chief executive officer of Remy Cointreau SA, parent of Rémy Martin.

Since then, the fashion brands have been reporting to Jérôme Lambert, group ceo of Richemont.

Fortunato’s challenge will be to help unlock potential at brands such as Chloé and Maison Alaïa, which welcomed new ceo’s within the past nine months, and to help Richemont to better navigate the finicky fashion world.

Riccardo Bellini, previously ceo of Maison Margiela, joined Chloé on Dec. 1, while Myriam Serrano, who had been Chloé’s director of communication and accessories, became ceo of Alaïa last September.

Richemont’s fashion and accessories maisons have been lagging in recent years.

The group includes them in its “other” businesses along with watch component manufacturing and real estate activities.

For the fiscal year ended March 31, 2020, sales of these business dropped 5 percent. Operating losses that year include a 45 million euro charge in relation to impairment of tangible assets at Alaïa, Dunhill and Purdey, the British maker of shotguns and rifles.

Richemont still has high hopes for the fashion and soft luxury division and ambitions to compete with the likes of Hermès, Salvatore Ferragamo and brands belonging to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering.

A few years ago, Richemont began slimming down the division and putting the focus on its top fashion and accessories brands. It sold Shanghai Tang and Lancel, and began to ramp up its high-end leather goods production with the purchase of the artisanal Milanese brand Serapian.

Richemont has been using the Serapian factories to scale up production and develop expertise across the group in a bid to make “creative and well-priced products” that speak to consumers’ needs.

“We see significant potential in leather goods,” said Richemont’s chief financial officer Burkhart Grund during the company’s 2017-18 results presentation in May 2018. Grund said at the time that Richemont’s plan was to grow its leather business organically through its existing brands, rather than rely on acquisitions.

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