LONDON — Compagnie Financière Richemont is making a bid to strengthen its fashion and accessories houses in the face of the economic downturn.

This story first appeared in the June 1, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Last week the luxury goods group named retail veteran Marty Wikstrom as chief executive of Richemont’s fashion and accessories businesses, a new position. The announcement Friday confirms a report in WWD March 31. Johann Rupert, executive chairman of Richemont, said the appointment “reaffirms Richemont’s commitment to our fashion and accessories maisons.”

Wikstrom, who has served as a non-executive director at Richemont since 2005, will now oversee the luxury group’s Chloé, Azzedine Alaïa, Alfred Dunhill, Lancel and Shanghai Tang businesses. Each of those brands’ chief executives will now report to Wikstrom, a spokesman for Richemont said. “I’ve had the privilege of working with Richemont over the last several years as a non-executive director,” Wikstrom told WWD Friday. “I am [now] looking forward to engaging more directly with the leadership of these maisons — many of which are over 100 years old — to ensure relevance and success for the next 100 years.”

Wikstrom will be based in London and will report to Rupert, and her position is effective immediately. She will remain a member of Richemont’s board in an executive capacity. Wikstrom’s appointment comes after Norbert Platt, group chief executive officer of Richemont, said last month that he will retire at the end of the year and return to Germany. Richemont has yet to name his successor.

During Wikstrom’s career, she has been president of Nordstrom’s Full Line Store Group and managing director of Harrods. Together with Dawn Mello she founded in 2006 Atelier Management LLC, a luxury investment company in which Richemont is the principal investor. Atelier’s investments include the footwear firm Harry’s of London, ready-to-wear label Adam Lippes and accessories company Mary Norton. Wikstrom said that following her appointment at Richemont “there are no changes at Atelier Management LLC at this time.”

The labels Wikstrom will oversee at Richemont — the group’s soft luxury houses — have not traditionally performed as strongly as its watch and jewelry businesses. In the fiscal year ending March 31, sales at Richemont’s leather and accessories divisions, which include Lancel and Alfred Dunhill, fell 5 percent, while the company said Chloé’s sales were “well below” the previous year’s levels. In contrast, Richemont said jewelry house Cartier, its largest single business, had a “record year” in terms of sales and profitability.

The group’s fashion and accessories brands have also seen a number of shifts in their creative direction over the past few years. In 2008, Hannah MacGibbon took over from designer Paulo Melim Andersson as the creative director of Chloé, after Andersson had shown just three collections for the house. Before Andersson joined the label, Chloé’s collections were designed by an in-house team following Phoebe Philo’s departure in 2006. Meanwhile, Kim Jones was last year named creative director of Dunhill, charged with redefining the label as a luxury lifestyle brand after numerous attempts over the last decade to revitalize the traditional English company’s apparel and leather goods offerings.