Kaia Gerber on the catwalkChloe show, Runway, Fall Winter 2019, Paris Fashion Week, France - 28 Feb 2019

LONDON — Eric Vallat is leaving as head of Richemont’s fashion and accessories division a little over a year after taking up the job, and in an ever-more challenging market.

Vallat’s departure signals a further setback for the division, which recorded broadly flat sales of 493 million euros in the April-to-June period, and which has long lived in the shadow of Richemont’s far larger watches and jewelry businesses.

The division includes Chloé, Dunhill, Maison Alaïa and the golf and luxury performance apparel brand Peter Millar. In the April-to-June period, fashion and accessories, known as Richemont’s “other businesses” saw sales contract 3 percent, mostly due to the disposal of Lancel in 2018.

In a first-quarter trading update issued in July, Richemont said the “strong performance” of Peter Millar during the period contrasted with that of the other maisons in the division.

With Cartier serving as Richemont’s revenue engine, and the specialist, high-end watch business beginning to pick up after a major transformation, the fashion and accessories division remains a challenge for the group, especially with competitors such as Hermès, Salvatore Ferragamo and brands belonging to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering, parent of Gucci and Saint Laurent.

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 develop “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. He added that Richemont’s plan was to grow its leather business organically through its existing brands, rather than rely on acquisitions.

That same day, Richemont confirmed the appointment of Vallat to the newly created role of head of the group’s fashion and accessories maisons. Vallat reports to Jérôme Lambert, group chief executive officer.

On Tuesday, Richemont said Vallat will step down from his current position and from the senior executive committee for personal reasons.

This change is effective Oct. 26, 2019, and the fashion and accessories businesses will report to Lambert. Richemont will look to replace Vallat in the role, it is understood.

Richemont’s chairman Johann Rupert said: “Eric has been offered a wonderful opportunity outside the group and I fully understand his decision to pursue it.

“We would like to thank Eric for his many contributions to the group’s fashion and accessories businesses, positioning them well for the future.”

According to well-placed sources, Vallat will be returning to the helm of Rémy Martin. Before joining Richemont, he was ceo of Rémy Martin, part of the Rémy Cointreau Group, and had worked for Louis Vuitton in Europe, Christian Dior Couture in Japan, Bonpoint and J.M. Weston.

It’s been a busy month so far in Richemont’s fashion and accessories division: As reported, Alaïa has a new ceo in Myriam Serrano, who joined the fashion house from Chloé earlier this month.

Serrano replaced Alison Sachs, who remains at the Richemont group, undertaking other responsibilities. Serrano joined Richemont in 2006 as director of accessories collections for Chloé. She was later promoted to Chloé’s director of communication and accessories.

Richemont, which owns Yoox Net-a-porter, is also looking to build up its fashion retail offer and e-commerce division.

Last November, it announced a joint venture with Alibaba that will see the launch of two mobile apps for Net-a-porter and Mr Porter, with Alibaba providing technology infrastructure, marketing, payments, logistics and other technology support to the JV.

In addition, Net and Mr Porter will open online stores on Alibaba’s Tmall Luxury Pavilion. YNAP and Alibaba said they plan to explore future offerings to enable the JV’s customers to enjoy “seamless” online and off-line shopping experiences through digitizing and fully integrating the retail value chain.

The JV will focus on serving consumers in China and also extend to Chinese consumers traveling abroad. Details of the joint venture, its management and structure have yet to be made public.

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