NEW YORK — Timing is everything.
Brigitte Kleine, the U.S. president of Alexander McQueen, announced her resignation on Thursday to join Michael Kors Inc. as president of the Michael Kors Collection women’s division. She is the first top executive to resign from Gucci Group since the announcement on Tuesday that Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole would not renew their contracts with the company.
Kleine could not be reached, but sources familiar with the situation said the deal came up quickly — within days, not weeks — although it could not be learned whether her departure was directly related to Ford’s and De Sole’s resignations.
Kleine, who joined McQueen in January 2002 as part of Gucci’s U.S. expansion of its emerging brands, oversaw the company’s retail strategy in America, including the opening of the McQueen store on West 14th Street in Manhattan and its growth within department stores. She is also a longtime veteran of Donna Karan International, and the latest of numerous hires from the staff of that company’s former chief executive, John Idol, who is widely expected to join Kors once Jones Apparel Group completes its acquisition of Kasper A.S.L., where he is currently ceo.
She will become president of the women’s collection at Kors on Dec. 8, taking on responsibilities that have been handled by a consultant, Susan Sokol, since March. Sokol, president of SLS Consulting, will continue to work with the company on an interim basis, according to a spokeswoman for Kors.
Prior to joining McQueen, Kleine was president of international and licensing at Karan, where she held various positions since 1993. At McQueen, her full title was president of the Americas, wholesale and retail.
“I was blown away by her energy, enthusiasm and knowledge,” Kors said in a statement. “She brings a great deal of international experience to the table.”
Michael Kors has hired nearly a dozen top executives in recent months. It is staffing up for what is expected to be a major expansion of its collection business and the wide-scale introduction of its better-priced Michael collection next year for fall 2004 retailing, plans that were initiated since the firm was acquired by Sportswear Holdings Ltd. in January.
Gia Castrogiovanni, the former chief operating officer of Mossimo Inc., was named president of the Michael women’s collection, and Anna Bakst, another Karan alum, was named president of Michael Kors accessories. Don Witkowski was named president of all its men’s collections.
While many of the hires have been focused on the development of the Michael collection, which is being done in-house, the appointment of a president for the women’s designer line on Thursday underscores several recent moves to bolster its position on the luxury front as well.
Lawrence Stroll, co-chairman of Sportswear Holdings, stressed the collection business on Thursday at the WWD/DNR CEO Summit, saying that the company is close to signing a lease in Los Angeles for its second designer line store, and that it is developing a new in-store shop concept for high-end retailers.