PARIS — In another sign of turbulence at Jean Paul Gaultier, the French house said Monday its longtime president Donald Potard has exited.
A Gaultier spokesman said Potard, a childhood friend of Gaultier’s, had resigned. Until a successor is named, managing director Christophe Caillaud will assume day-to-day operations, he added.
The management change comes as Gaultier is under increasing pressure to turn its famed designer’s madcap creativity into profits. The house has operated in the red for the last two years.
There also is increasing speculation in Europe that Hermès, which owns 35 percent of Gaultier, is losing patience with the company even as it has tightened its relationship with the designer by tapping Gaultier to do its women’s ready-to-wear collections.
Hermès declined to comment on the management change at Gaultier.
Potard, 53, was as unconventional a chief executive as Gaultier — the once-enfant terrible who put men in skirts and Madonna in a cone-shaped breastplate — is a designer.
Gaultier’s business model is an unusual one by today’s standards since it is based heavily on licensing, even for core products such as rtw and jeans. Revenues totaled 28 million euros, or $36.2 million at current exchange, last year, up from 6 million euros, or $7.8 million, in 1990 when Potard was promoted to president. Expressed in retail terms, sales of Gaultier branded products reached 570 million euros, or $738.7 million, in 2004.
When he was decorated as a chevalier of the Legion of Honor last year, the affable Potard remarked that he broke almost every rule in the business: “We did couture after ready-to-wear, perfume before the couture and we opened boutiques almost as the last step.”
In the statement Monday, Gaultier trumpeted Potard’s accomplishments through the years, including establishing the beauty business with Beauté Prestige International in 1991, the couture business in 1997, the accessories division in 2000 and a rollout of new boutiques that gained steam in 2002.
“My aim was to transform a small ready-to-wear company into the youngest luxury house,” said Potard, who in the mid-Nineties was also active in the Chambre Syndicale as head of its rtw division. “I now consider my mission accomplished.”
But the house’s poor financial performance over the last two years had put Potard under increasing pressure.
In January, only months after moving into a swanky new 50,000-square-foot headquarters building with a Philippe Starck decor, Gaultier let go 31 workers in a bid to save the firm’s money-losing couture business and lift the house out of the red. At the time, the company said its restructuring plan, which calls for greater emphasis on high-margin accessories, would begin to bear fruit this year.
Potard had hailed the new headquarters as an indication of the house’s commitment to couture. “This is our investment in couture because we believe in couture,” he said last July. “This is what you expect for a couture house.”
He said that the losses at the company in 2003 partially resulted from investments it had made in opening new Philippe Starck-designed flagships in New York, London and Paris. He also stressed that, while Gaultier lost money on couture, the house remained committed to the craft