We all awoke to a strange announcement in the fashion industry. The news that Christopher Bailey, currently chief creative officer of Burberry, will become chief executive officer when Angela Ahrendts leaves the brand in 2014 whilst also retaining his former role, a position that he has undoubtedly made his own.
It’s no news that Bailey has been on a roll (pardon the pun) for quite a while. His latest S/S’14 womenswear offer for Burberry Prorsum was outstanding and the show is still the biggest draw at London’s Fashion Week. Add to that consistently upwards sales and global domination especially in far eastern expansion markets and it’s a no brainer that Christopher Bailey is quite the exemplary creative with business acumen who has redefined the image of Burberry. However, it is feared that despite his induction under superwoman and business visionnary, Angela Ahrendts, whether Bailey will quite cut the mustard under his newly assumed role as emperor or Burberry. Especially when he has to come up with season after season of new clothes.
In fact, as the announcement was made, shares had already started to fall by as much as 5% (in early morning trading) according to The Wall Street Journal. This is the woman who only last week, caused shares in luxury goods to fall with her announcement in France’s ‘Les Echoes’ that the slowdown in luxury goods sales in China (where Burberry are big) may constitute a new market trend. With the USA still on budget standoff, this was big news in an uncertain time.
Ms Ahrendts has been poached by Apple to oversee the “strategic direction, expansion and operation” of both Apple retail and online stores. The appointment fills the gap in Apple’s retail operations and includes responsibility for online store sales as well. Apple obviously hope to tap into Ahrendts years of experience in digital luxury retail that set Burberry as a world leader in social media and e-commerce. Whilst Bailey has been at Ahrendts side throughout Burberry’s expansion, playing a key role in driving the company’s creative direction and social media shenanigans, does Bailey have the kudos to fill Ahrendts killer heels and give market confidence whilst directing the brand creatively? It’s a bit like spinning two very heavyweight and globally important plates.
There are some voices saying that perhaps the new CEO appointment is to halt Bailey eyeing an altogether different prize (possibly at LVMH as they seek a replacement for Marc Jacobs at Vuitton). Would Bailey’s departure as Chief Creative Officer send shares tumbling more than an appointment to CEO, as his chief creative officer role is so vital for the business? Or, perhaps Bailey just simply held all the cards as well as the insider knowledge on all business Burberry, to force through the appointment? Better the devil you know. And one with remarkably good taste and an instinctive feel. Burberry may be in safe hands now it no longer needs the entrepreneurial transformational style of Angela Ahrendts that made the business superlative. In terms of economic stability, though, we’re far from out of the woods in Europe and with the luxury goods sales slowdown in the Far East, Burberry may need more vision than just safe hands and loyalty to appease the markets.
Catwalk images from Burberry Prorsum S/S’14 show.