Kering Hands $1.5 Billion Bottega Veneta to Unknown Designer

(Bloomberg) -- Kering tapped an unknown designer who worked at luxury rival LVMH’s Celine to revamp the Italian handbag-maker Bottega Veneta.

The 32-year-old British designer Daniel Lee will take over as creative director of the French luxury company’s third-largest brand in July. He’s succeeding Tomas Maier, the German designer who built Bottega Veneta into a 1.3 billion-euro ($1.5 billion) business but one whose sales peaked in 2015.

Lee worked at Balenciaga and Donna Karan before joining Celine in 2012. Star designer Phoebe Philo had been floated in the fashion press and by analysts like Exane BNP’s Luca Solca as a potential successor at Bottega Veneta, citing the commercial success of her handbag designs and an understated aesthetic. But Kering has made a habit of tapping behind-the-scenes figures.

“Lee has a deep understanding of the house’s current challenges both in terms of creation and development,” Bottega Veneta Chief Executive Officer Claus Dietrich Lahrs, who joined Kering from Hugo Boss in 2016, said in a statement.

Maier stepped down after sales stagnated at Bottega Veneta, in contrast to Gucci and other Kering brands. The brand, known for its use of basket-woven leather rather than a prominent logo, has been a favorite of shoppers with a taste for discreet luxury. But the brand has struggled to generate excitement online at a time when social networks and their millennial devotees are driving growth for the industry. As demand for high-end goods rebounded in China last year, Bottega missed the wave -- 2017 sales remained down slightly from the 2015 peak.

New Designers

Kering has sought out designers who make its brands stand out with a clearly branded, recognizable aesthetic that can be extended from products to store decor, social media and more.

Sales took off at Gucci after the French luxury group elevated Alessandro Michele, a longtime staffer in the brand’s studio, to the post of creative director in 2015. If growth at Gucci eventually tapers off, a creative shake-up at Kering’s third-biggest brand could help the company maintain momentum.

But the group may have been wary of bringing on a major name to do the job following its highly public breakups with former designers including Hedi Slimane and Nicolas Ghesquiere, each of whom ended up facing Kering in French courts. In April, a judge ruled against Kering in the suit brought by Slimane, saying he had been underpaid by as much as 9.3 million euros when he left the helm of Saint Laurent in 2016.

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