PARIS — In the first high-profile designer exit of the post-Tom and Dom era at Gucci Group, Boucheron creative director Solange Azagury-Partridge said Thursday she’s leaving the jewelry, watch and fragrance house.
“It’s been three roller-coaster, amazing years,” the London-based designer told WWD. “But there was another change happening here, and I just thought it was the right time for me to change as well and go back home.”
Azagury-Partridge was alluding to the recent exits of creative director Tom Ford and chief executive Domenico De Sole, and the appointment last month of Christian Bedos, the fourth chief executive at Boucheron since it was acquired in 2000 as part of the Italian firm’s acquisitions spree.
Azagury-Partridge plans to take a long holiday and then devote her energies to her signature business, based out of the boutique she established in 1995 in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood, where the likes of Madonna, Kate Moss and Sir Elton John come in search of her quirky, bright baubles.
“It’s a very healthy little shop,” she said. She declined to divulge sales figures, but noted, “I’m up 100 percent on last year.”
Bedos, who started at Boucheron Monday, said he hasn’t made a decision regarding succession. In the interim, he said the house, founded in 1858, has a rich archive and plenty of fresh designs “in its drawers” to sustain it in the coming months.
Although Boucheron has presented new collections of fine jewelry during the last two July couture seasons with extravagant parties in the Place Vendôme, no event is planned this summer, he noted.
Azagury-Partridge’s departure is the latest blow to a brand that has been struggling.
Earlier this year, Gucci Group scotched an ambitious retail rollout, opening a Bottega Veneta flagship in Manhattan in a Fifth Avenue space originally earmarked for Boucheron. Meanwhile, year-old shops in Honolulu and San Francisco were shuttered, which contributed to a $12 million restructuring charge at Gucci in the fourth quarter. As of March 31, there were 25 Boucheron locations. At one time, Gucci Group had envisioned a network of 60 to 65 locations by 2005.
The retrenchment has fueled speculation Boucheron may be on the selling block, which has been repeatedly denied by Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, which controls Gucci Group. Meanwhile, some luxury analysts are calling for drastic action to stem the flow of red ink. Boucheron’s losses are believed to have swelled to about $30 million last year, as reported. Market sources peg Boucheron’s 2003 volume for jewelry and watches at around $40 million with perfumes generating another $60 million.
On Thursday, Bedos dismissed the disposal talk as “just rumors.”
Despite Boucheron’s troubles, Azagury-Partridge had no regrets about her tenure during a time of explosive interest and intense competition in branded jewelry.
“I feel like I’ve been to the university of jewelry,” she said. “It was a very grown-up experience, and it’s been a major education for me about fine jewelry and how big business works.”
Azagury-Partridge — who arrived at Boucheron around the same time as Jade Jagger at Garrard and Reema Pachachi at De Beers LV — helped establish her brand’s “haute” positioning with a debut collection dripping with emeralds, rubies, diamonds and sapphires — at prices that ran into the millions.
In subsequent collections, she drew inspiration from European history to create such extravagant designs as Ivy tiaras, rings with secret compartments and knitted gold mesh cuffs scattered with diamonds. But there were accessibly priced pieces, too, including rings resembling nibbled or melting chocolates. She also launched lines of watches and sunglasses, incorporating symbols of the house, like the snake, which also appears on the fragrance, Trouble, that bowed last month.