PARIS (Reuters) - French fashion house Chloé is set to name as it new creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi, second-in-command to Louis Vuitton designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, sources told Reuters, as the industry braces for a fresh round of leadership changes.
After a year marked by a series of reshuffles at labels such as Hugo Boss, Kering's Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga and LVMH's Dior and Celine amid lower luxury spending, 2017 should see another round of musical chairs.
The departure of Louis Vuitton's Ramsay-Levi raises questions about the future inner workings of the design studio, headed by Ghesquiere, who made his name at Balenciaga before joining Louis Vuitton in 2013.
The appointment would also mean disruption for Richemont-owned Chloé, as Ramsay-Levi is associated with modern looks involving hard fabrics such as leather and synthetics, at odds with the label's traditional flowing romantic silhouettes.
Citing the success of Hedi Slimane at Yves Saint Laurent and Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, fashion consultants argue that a new artistic direction, if thought out well, can be good for a brand because it gets consumers' attention and can help boost sales.
Chloé's current creative director, Clare Waight Keller, a mother of three, decided not to renew her contract, which ends in March. Since her family moved back to London from Paris in June, she had been commuting between the two cities and wished to stop, the sources said.
Analysts estimate Chloé, Richemont's biggest fashion brand, generates sales of around 400 million euros. Richemont and Chloé declined to comment. Industry sources have said Ghesquiere could end his collaboration with Louis Vuitton before his contract was up for renewal, which LVMH said was in 2018.
Ghesquiere told French TV channel Canal Plus last year he wished to create his own label but did not provide details.
In recent months, several fashion recruitment sources said Louis Vuitton executives were actively scouting for a replacement. LVMH and Louis Vuitton declined to comment on Ramsay-Levi's departure.
At Louis Vuitton, Ramsay-Levi was a key member of Ghesquiere's team. As design director, she was the only person the studio's designers and assistants regularly spoke to, as Ghesquiere rarely interacted with them directly, former studio employees told Reuters.
Ramsay-Levi, who worked more than a decade with Ghesquiere at Balenciaga, on top of being his go-between, understood well his creative directions and translated them into concrete looks and products she asked designers to produce.
There has been high staff turnover at Louis Vuitton's design studio the past two years, partly due to the brand's long working hours and stressful environment, former employees have told Reuters.
Many studio staff are on three-month or one-month renewable contracts which prevents them from having days off or compensation for over-time.
WWD reported last month that Ramsay-Levi was in talks with Chloé but it did not say Waight Keller had decided not to renew her contract.
Waight Keller, who had joined Chloé in 2011 from Pringle of Scotland where she was artistic director and worked at Gucci, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, is parting ways on a high note, the sources said.
Cartier owner Richemont said in November the French label "enjoyed a geographically broad-based double-digit growth rate (in half-year sales), largely driven by leather," helped by the popularity of the Drew and Faye leather bags.
Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt, editing by Louise Heavens