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Burberry plans its life after Bailey

Burberry plans life after Bailey

Christopher Bailey is to leave Burberry after 17 years at the creative helm.

Bailey will remain in his post as president and chief creative officer of the brand until March 31, 2018, when he will step down from the board.

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

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

“We have a clear vision for the next chapter to accelerate the growth and success of the Burberry brand and I am excited about the opportunity ahead for our teams, our partners and our shareholders,” Gobbetti continued.

“It has been the great privilege of my working life to be at Burberry, working alongside and learning from such an extraordinary group of people over the last 17 years,” said Bailey.

“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,” Bailey added.

The process of hiring a replacement for Bailey will soon officially begin, according to the company. Eyes on the new candidates then.

Several analysts, including Mario Ortelli at Bernstein, John Guy at Mainfirst Bank and Thomas Chauvet at Citigroup suggested that Phoebe Philo — who worked with Gobbetti so successfully at Céline — could be a replacement candidate if the chief executive decides to elevate the brand, as suggested by an open letter to Burberry penned by Ortelli in August 2017.

For now, Philo remains in her role at Céline, though BoF reported earlier this month that LVMH is interviewing designers to replace Philo and rebuild Céline’s design team in preparation for her eventual departure, though 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. She is a big name, and in terms of brand elevation she can be one of the possible candidates for the role,” said Mario Ortelli, head of the luxury goods sector at Sanford C. Bernstein.

“In our view Phoebe Philo could move across to Burberry and recreate the powerful CEO-creative director combination Gobbetti and Philo experienced at Céline,” added Guy.

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“Early feedback from investors suggests that the successful partnership she previously had with Mr Gobbetti makes her a suitable potential candidate,” wrote Chauvet, head of luxury goods equity research at Citi, in a note.

Gobbetti is expected to lay out his strategic plans on 9 November 2017 at interim results.

Burberry shares fell on the news of Bailey’s departure in London trading, falling 1.46 percent.

Bailey has been the mind behind Burberry digital rebranding, and his departure closes an era. Under Bailey the company was one of the first luxury firms to tap the power of social media and online community. Season after season, Burberry used its runway shows to showcase its pioneering engagement with new technologies, from live streaming to novel Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat activations.

The strategy was twofold, allowing the brand to experiment with promising new communications strategies while driving PR value by creating a “digital halo” for itself. This added a new layer of excitement and energy to the business, which became a rival for fashion brands in France and Italy, even if they sniffed that Burberry was not a real luxury brand.

But the formula eventually became stale, reflected in runway shows that seemed to follow a strict template: the same trench coats, the same venue in London’s Kensington Gardens, the same British indie music, the same models, the same front row, right down to the same confetti which fell from the rafters during each finale.

Still, under Bailey, Burberry made some progress: transitioning to a new operating and creative model, beginning with the consolidation of its sprawling brand hierarchy in late 2015 and cutting costs. In a move that was rapidly followed by other major players including Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford, Bailey also embraced “see now, buy now.” On the creative side, he simultaneously changed his show venue and shifted the direction of his collections towards something more esoteric and less merchandised.

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According to market sources, Gobetti has pushed to for a creative reboot at Burberry. The first indication of this came in June 2017, when Bailey unveiled a surprise collaboration with Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, whose Eastern Bloc, skater-inflected designs lean right into the “chav” stigma. But whether this path will prove fruitful remains to be seen.

There is huge global potential for Burberry, a brand that has near singular ownership of “British luxury.” Unlike, say, Dior and Chanel, which have to share the idea of Parisian couture, or the many luxury brands in Milan that have to share the idea of “Made in Italy,” there is only one global British luxury brand at the scale of these continental competitors, and that is Burberry.

But to harness this potential, Bailey’s successor must bring new focus to the creative side of the business.