Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — In a surprise development, Burberry has decided “by mutual agreement” not to renew the contract of its creative director, Roberto Menichetti, when it expires at the end of the month.
The news comes as Burberry’s parent, Great Universal Stores PLC, is preparing an initial public offering of up to 25 percent of the company. GUS said last fall the IPO would take place within the next 18 months but industry analysts expect it later this year.
Rose Marie Bravo, Burberry’s chief executive, told WWD in an exclusive interview that Menichetti “has been instrumental to us from the beginning. His respect for the brand’s heritage and Thomas Burberry were instrumental in building the fabric of the brand. Roberto provided the DNA for the new Burberry and we only wish him well.”
She stressed Menichetti’s departure will have no affect on Burberry’s IPO.
“Roberto has done so much for us and is so much part of our success. But a lot of people have contributed to our success. He provided the germ, the seed of Burberry’s design integrity but other people have taken it on and propelled it forward. This brand still has immense potential.”
There were reports earlier this week in Milan that Menichetti had abruptly departed Burberry. Bravo said she didn’t know his future plans.
“It was as much Roberto’s decision as it was ours,” she said. “Sometimes in life you have to do what is correct and he decided to do the correct thing. It’s hard to know what is in someone’s heart — ambitions, dreams. We hoped he would have achieved those here but sometimes you have to move on.”
Menichetti could not be reached at press time.
Bravo said Burberry will immediately begin a search for a new creative director. She could not place a time frame on when one might be appointed.
Menichetti was among Bravo’s first appointments at Burberry after she was named chief executive in 1997. She hired him from Jil Sander, where he worked for four years and was instrumental in developing Sander’s successful men’s line. Prior to that, he worked at Claude Montana in a similar capacity.
His main focus over the last three years has been the development of Burberry’s high-end Prorsum Collection for women and men. Prorsum provided the design basis for the company’s other, less-expensive lines, Burberry London and Thomas Burberry.
Menichetti has been passionate about reinventing Burberry’s heritage and continually spoke of his feeling of identification with company founder Thomas Burberry. A motocross racer, Menichetti talked of the need to carry on the Burberry tradition of functionality, sportiness and a modern feeling. His focus in Prorsum was on the development of innovative fabrics and, in his words, “modernity for women and men.”
His efforts over the last three years have met with a mixed reception, both from press and buyers. But there was a feeling that Menichetti was beginning to find his feet with Prorsum. His most recent men’s wear presentation in Milan was warmly received and his women’s wear presentation in London 10 days ago was considered his best effort yet.
Bravo has often stressed that Prorsum is not meant to be compared to Gucci or Prada.
“We’re not about that,” she said. “That’s not the Burberry image.”
But in a quieter way, Menichetti has had significant impact on both women’s and men’s fashion over the last three years. His motocross styles have been aped worldwide and he is one of the designers who has led the leather trend.
The difficulty has been that Prorsum has had a limited distribution over the last two years. It’s largest representation is in the new Burberry flagship on New Bond Street here, which only opened last fall. Buyers said the line still hasn’t developed strong brand recognition with consumers, although they admitted Prorsum’s leathers sell well. There also have been delivery problems, they said. Much of Prorsum’s production has been done at Menichetti’s family factory in Gubbio, Italy.
Menichetti remained based in Gubbio even as Burberry became one of the hottest brands around. He would come to the company’s London headquarters only every few months, mainly for the Prorsum women’s wear presentations. In addition, Prorsum has been overshadowed by the huge success of Burberry’s core London line, which is the engine of the company’s business because it focuses much more on the famous Burberry check. Almost all of Burberry’s advertising has been of its London line, with only a few pages a season devoted to Prorsum. Debra Lloyd oversees the London women’s wear team in London while Michael McGrath leads the design team for London men’s wear.
In an interview prior to the most recent Prorsum women’s wear presentation, there were hints that Menichetti was beginning to question his role within the company. He continually expressed fear that the Burberry check was becoming “over-exposed” and said the company needed to stop producing it for a short time. But at the same time he enthused about his most recent developments for the brand, ranging from a Prorsum jodhpur that was a cross between riding and motocross pants to cashmere and stretch felt minis.
“This company needs to think about the future, not just about today,” Menichetti said at the time. “We are trying to develop a way for women to dress that’s modern, elegant, sporty and sensual.”
A thoughtful man, Menichetti also exhibited his breadth of interests. The conversation covered everything from his plans to take part in a motocross race across Europe to the painting of frescoes to the design of the perfect T-shirt. Menichetti stressed that fashion was only one of his interests, saying, “fashion is not the most important thing in the world.”