Christopher Bailey, who fashioned trench coat maker Burberry into a global label, will part ways with the British company next year, leaving its new chief executive to revitalise the brand.
Bailey joined Burberry from Gucci, where he was senior womenswear designer, in 2001. Working with former CEOs Rose Marie Bravo and Angela Ahrendts, he made Burberry’s camel, red and black check designs must-have items for fashion buyers.
While sales rose in the early 2000s, helped by ad campaigns fronted by model Kate Moss, Burberry became a victim of its own success when its check pattern was widely counterfeited, but Bailey successfully re-established its upmarket credentials.
Although Bailey also became CEO when Ahrendts left for Apple in 2014, Burberry’s growth faltered, first as demand in Asia slowed, and then as it struggled to ride a rebound.
Bailey, who was paid £3.5 million (Dh17 million) in the year to end-March, will surrender share awards worth more than £16 million when he leaves, Burberry said on Tuesday, adding he had decided it was time to pursue new projects.
In 2014, shareholders voted against a near £20 million share award to the 46-year-old designer, which was not linked to performance. Some are these are included in those surrendered.
Burberry said Bailey would step down from his board positions of president and chief creative officer at the end of March, but would support Marco Gobbetti, who took over from him as CEO, until December 31, 2018.
Bailey’s exit will enable Gobbetti to revamp Burberry’s creative direction as well as its operations, analysts said.
“Burberry... has become somewhat predictable and deja vu,” Exane BNP Paribas said.
In a notoriously fickle fashion world, younger consumers are increasingly influential and favour new products or twists on classic designs, weighing on Burberry’s appeal and its shares.
The company, which still manufactures in Yorkshire, northern England, poached Gobbetti from Celine to overhaul the business earlier this year, leaving Bailey with creative control.
Gobbetti has already made changes to the company founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, cutting costs and striking a licensing deal for make-up and perfumes after they were bought in house.
Under Bailey, Burberry moved upmarket, emphasised its British heritage and launched new leather goods like the Bridle bag.
He also used social media and shook up traditional fashion production cycles by enabling people to buy designs as soon as they were shown on the catwalk.
The Burberry check baseball cap, a symbol of its earlier ubiquity, was resurrected in Bailey’s recent collection, priced at £195.
Analyst Jelena Sokolova at Morningstar said Burberry’s new products were doing well, but staples like coats had lagged and a creative overhaul was never a sure-fire winner for a brand.
“A transition is always a risk,” Sokolova said.
Kering’s Gucci has been reinvented by Alessandro Michele over the past two years, with colourful, rococo designs that have fired up sales at a far faster rate than competitors.
Finding a new designer can be a long process — France’s Christian Dior took around eight months before appointing a new creative head last year and new designers don’t always spell commercial success.
France’s Lanvin is on its third designer in two years after parting ways with its one-time star Alber Elbaz in 2015, while French luxury powerhouse LVMH recently denied a report that Celine designer Phoebe Philo was set to leave the label.
But the report by industry news site Business of Fashion prompted fresh speculation by analysts on Tuesday that she could follow Gobbetti to Burberry.
The pool of potentially readily available top names includes Elbaz and Bouchra Jarrar, two Lanvin alumni, Ricardo Tisci, who left LVMH’s Givenchy earlier this year, and Hedi Slimane, former artistic director at Kering’s Saint Laurent.