Christopher Bailey to depart Burberry after 17 years

Christopher Bailey is to depart from Burberry after 17 years as its creative head.

In a statement issued overnight, Burberry said Bailey, 46, will remain in his dual roles of president and chief creative officer until March 31, when he will also resign from the board.

He will design the Spring/Summer 2018 collection and exit the business in December after a period of transition.

“Burberry has undergone an incredible transformation since 2001 and Christopher has been instrumental to the company’s success in that period,” said Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti.

Bailey described his tenure at the UK-headquartered luxury fashion brand as “the great privilege of my working life”.

“I am excited to pursue new creative projects but remain fully committed to the future success of this magnificent brand and to ensuring a smooth transition.”

Christopher Bailey

Replacement tipped

Some analysts are already picking Bailey’s replacement: Phoebe Philo, who worked with Gobbetti at Celine, has been identified as a frontrunner.

“For now, Philo remains in her role at Celine,” reported Business of Fashion. [But] LVMH is interviewing designers to replace Philo and rebuild Celine’s design team in preparation for her eventual departure. The conglomerate vehemently denied that Philo’s departure was “imminent” without denying that interviews for her replacement were taking place.”

“Phoebe used to work with Marco Gobbetti and they know each other well,” Mario Ortelli, head of the luxury goods sector at Sanford C Bernstein, told BoF. “She is a big name, and in terms of brand elevation she can be one of the possible candidates for the role. In our view Phoebe Philo could move across to Burberry and recreate the powerful CEO-creative director combination Gobbetti and Philo experienced at Celine.”

Thomas Chauvet, head of luxury goods equity research with Citigroup, concurred in a note issued after the Bailey announcement.  

“Early feedback from investors suggests that the successful partnership she previously had with Mr Gobbetti makes her a suitable potential candidate.”

Pascal Martin, partner with OC&C Strategy Consultants in Hong Kong, said 17 years at the helm of a luxury brand’s design team is a long tenure – longer than most design directors in global luxury houses, with the exception of very rare cases like Chanel’s Lagerfeld.

“In his time, Bailey had completely revived the brand and had the genius to re-invent the trench, Burberry’s iconic product, and make it trendy and aspirational. He has also led Burberry’s charge into the digital world, ahead of the entire luxury sector, making the brand “cool” to the millennials generation when other luxury brands were still very hesitant and protective.”

Rivals catching up

But Martin said Burberry’s designs and stores have lost a bit of their innovativeness lately, while many luxury brands have caught-up with Burberry on the digital front.

“Looking ahead, creating new excitement around the brand – through product design and store design – is going to be one of the major challenges for the new design director.”

Charlotte Pearce, a retail analyst with GlobalData, said since Bailey became creative director in 2004, he has contributed to total revenue growth of £2 billion and has helped to regenerate the brand, turning it back into the aspirational, iconic label that it once was.

“With just over a year until Bailey leaves, there is plenty of time for Marco Gobbetti, who took over as CEO in July, to find the right candidate to fill Bailey’s shoes. It is crucial that Burberry finds someone with respect for the brand’s British heritage but is able to further evolve the label creatively and bring it into a new era,” said Pearce.

Gobbetti said Burberry has “a clear vision for the next chapter” to accelerate the growth and success of the brand.

“I am excited about the opportunity ahead for our teams, our partners and our shareholders.”

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