Could Kering’s revival come from Unilever?

Following the cascade of changes at top level management at many of the Kering Group brands in the past 2 years (Gucci, Boucheron, Brioni, Bottega Veneta etc), this time it is French luxury fashion house of Balenciaga, which is, apparently, in shaky waters.

A global media frenzy has been stirred by Alexander Wang’s exit from Balenciaga, after less than 3 years from his appointment as Creative Director. Wang succeeded Nicolas Ghesquière, who had a 15 year tenure at Balenciaga in the same position. Ghesquière made a brilliant move to Louis Vuitton, owned by giant LVMH.

While Kering does not break out financial results for its companies, Balenciaga, in March this year reported “accelerating double-digit growth,” with over half of the company revenues coming from its 90 directly operated stores, from 3 stores 7 years ago. Market sources say Balenciaga is profitable, with revenues above 350 million euros (about $387 million).

Furthermore, Balenciaga has scheduled a Florence boutique opening for later this year, along with a series of store refurbishments and relocations in the pipeline. The label also announced earlier this year it would relocate its 250 employees to a new base within Kering’s forthcoming headquarters, the Laennec complex in Paris.

So why this sudden shift especially given the ”positive” performance of the company?

Could this be the start of a reverse strategy at Kering Group which, a decade ago stabled its luxury brands under Gucci Group, headed by Robert Polet, who had previously been in charge of the ice-cream and frozen food division of Unilever, the mass market FMCG giant? As a reminder, Robert Polet was dismissed after less than 4 years, the then Gucci Group headquarters were move from London to Paris and his role was taken over by the group owner Francois Henri-Pinault. Three years ago, PPR and Gucci Group were collectively re-branded under a single entity, the Kering Group.

Earlier this week, Pinault seems to have had a sudden change of hearts and hired yet another Unilever executive, Grita Loebsack, as CEO of Kering‘s Luxury Couture and Leather Goods’ Emerging Brands division, effective September 14. This would mean that Ms Loebsack would run the only emerging brand of the group, Christopher Kane.

But what about ‘Couture’? Does Ms Loebsack’s appointment and the creation of this new division imply that Balenciaga might return to Haute Couture or Gucci will re-launch its Gucci Première line? Or rather Kering will launch a ‘luxury couture beauty line’ for select Kering Group brands such as PUMA? (Ms Loebsack used to run the of Global Skin Care division at Unilever - Dove, Rexona, Luxe, Axe etc)

Oliver Petcu in Paris

Luxury re-invented