Burberry’s chief creative officer will also take on the chief executive role next year, but will his fashion pedigree be enough to keep investors happy?
Christopher Bailey, newly appointed chief creative and chief executive officer of Burberry, will be stepping into big shoes when he takes the helm next year.
He succeeds the lauded Angela Ahrendts who is leaving the British luxury brand to go to tech giant Apple as senior vice-president of retail and online stores. She is credited with taking Burberry to new heights in her seven-year tenure.
But Bailey has also played a vital role in Burberry’s shift from chav to chic and is well liked within the business and the wider industry.
At present he is responsible for the fashion giant’s collections, products, advertising, multimedia content and overall brand image. He also works alongside Ahrendts in developing the overall strategic direction of the company.
It has been a great partnership, which is understood to have started when he recommended her for the Burberry job after they worked together at Donna Karan a few years earlier.
A designer by trade, Bailey is not just a fashion man, he has also been key in driving Burberry’s digital innovation. The launch of his autumn/winter Prorsum womenswear line was broadcast in 3D in 2010 across cities including New York, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo and Los Angeles.
He also launched the Art of the Trench website, where customers share pictures of their Burberry trench coats.
However, it is for his creative talents that he is best known. He won Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 2009 to add to the menswear gongs he took home from the same event the two previous years. He was also awarded an MBE for services to the fashion industry.
Such plaudits and his 12-year tenure at Burberry belie his youth - he takes on one of the biggest roles in fashion at the age of 42.
The modest Bailey is a Yorkshireman, born in Halifax, whose father was a carpenter and mother a window dresser for Marks & Spencer. They still keep him grounded. Nowadays, he lives in Chelsea with his actor husband Simon Woods.
Bailey has an outstanding luxury fashion pedigree. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1994 and took a job at DKNY. He revealed recently that Donna Karan stripped naked within minutes of meeting him to try on his clothes.
After reaching the role of womenswear designer at DKNY he moved on to Gucci in 1996.
Bailey is excited to be taking up his new role at Burberry. He said in the company video revealing the management changes that the team had “done a lot of dreaming” and that dreaming turned into “solid strategy”. He added that he had “only just started dreaming”, indicating he was ready to take Burberry to an even higher level.
Burberry chief financial officer Carol Fairweather said last week: “Nobody knows [Burberry] better than him. It’s a design-led business, with a creative leader at the helm. He also has an incredibly sharp commercial mind,” she said.
But some commentators have questioned whether the dual creative-executive role he will take up in mid-2014 will work, and whether he has the business skills to lead a FTSE 100 company.
Neil Shah, head of research at Edison Investment Research, said investor confidence in Burberry will be hit by the loss of Ahrendts and by appointing a brand specialist to the top job rather than a corporate strategy specialist. However, Shah said investors will be relieved that “someone so core to Burberry’s global brand domination has been retained by granting him the top job”.
Citigroup analyst Thomas Chauvet said Bailey’s promotion is an “interesting choice, not unusual in the fashion industry”.
The self-described “scrawny English boy” has proven his design credentials but may have his work cut out proving his business nous to shareholders.
2001 to present Burberry, latterly chief creative officer and now also chief executive in waiting
1996 to 2001 Gucci, senior womenswear designer
1994 to 1996 Donna Karan, designer
Burberry chief executive Angela Ahrendts departs to join Apple
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