Less than two weeks ago Burberry CEO, Angela Ahrendts joined Simon Constable on WSJ Live to talk about fashion in the digital age and how a heritage brand stays nimble it was announced last night that the nimble Ms Ahrendts herself will join Apple next spring as Senior Vice-President of Retail and Online stores. In moving to Apple she follows another fashion industry executive, Paul Deneve the former Chief Executive of the iconic fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent. No-one’s quite sure what Deneve does in his role as a vice-president at Apple – he reports to Tim Cook and works on ‘special projects’, that’s been read as a euphemism for wearable in the press recently
Having met Tim Cook for the first time only last January, Ahrendts most recent public association with Apple was during the iPhone 5s launch when Burberry shot, and streamed their Spring 2014 runway show on Apple’s new iPhone. Particularly, she understands the growing agnosticism of consumers and with Apple’s retail stores under pressure she’ll bring an awareness and deftness of touch that John Browett the former Dixon’s chief couldn’t.
Is this simply a move by Apple to join the wearable fray? Probably not as Ahrendts has done a remarkable job in rejuvenating Burberry and her brand consciousness and protection brought the 150 year old company back from the brink of being an icon nearly relegated to the sale-bin as its brand was allowed to dissipate in the early 2000s, with a woefully mistimed mass market commercialisation.
Apple’s retail stores, although under pressure to perform don’t need the same resuscitation as Burberry did but they do need a polish and Ahrendts can bring the caché back and she knows how online, social and mobile commerce fit in to the new multi-channel retail landscape and for the first time at Apple, online and retail stores will have the same boss, evidence that Apple is keen to embrace the multi-channel retail model that companies like John Lewis have proven works. What Ahrendts has to do is fuze the brilliant social success of ASOS with a powerhouse brand that’s losing market share in sectors it invented – a challenge that Tim Cook is betting she’s able for, describing her as the ‘wickedly smart’ ideal person for the job.
And then there’s Paul Devene, the Belgian businessman who ran Yves Saint Laurent. His joining Apple, rather than Ahrendts, is evidence of the wearable move within Apple. Devene knows Apple well having worked in Apple Europe for much of the 1990s. So while Ahrendts will up the game for retail the question remains, what are Paul Devene and Apple legend Bob Mansfield getting ready to wear?