Burberry on Tuesday announced that after 17 years with the company, Christopher Bailey will leave at the end of 2018 "to pursue new creative projects," according to a company press release.
Bailey will remain president and chief creative officer until March 31, 2018, when he will step down from the board. He will provide his support to Chief Executive Officer Marco Gobbetti and the team until Dec. 31, 2018, the company said.
Christopher took on a dual role as Burberry’s CEO and Chief Creative Officer in May 2014 but stepped down from the CEO role last year to focus on design. He has been with the company since 2001 and began serving as creative director in 2004.
Many analysts saw Bailey's dual role as problematic and had been calling for Burberry to appoint a more experienced executive to assist him as the retailer struggled with a challenging luxury retail environment, which has faced slowing demand in Asia, (where Burberry was particularly exposed), and grappled with the unique challenges of luxury e-commerce. While global luxury retailers' earnings growth has the potential to nearly double this year to 7% from 4% last year, it's unlikely to reach the double-digit levels the sector enjoyed between 2010 and 2013, according to a report earlier this year from Moody's Investors Service.
Under former CEO Angela Ahrendts (now Apple's senior vice president of retail), Bailey was instrumental in reviving the Burberry brand after the company over-extended itself with lower-priced merchandise stamped with its iconic plaid. The strength regained under Bailey's guidance will remain after his departure, according to GlobalData Retail analyst Charlotte Pearce.
"Since becoming Creative Director in 2004, Bailey has contributed to total revenue growth of £2 billion and has helped to regenerate the brand, turning it back into the aspirational, iconic label that it once was," Pearce told Retail Dive in an email. "Under Bailey’s influence as Chief Creative Officer and CEO latterly in his Burberry career, he modernised the brand with its continued focus on innovation, digital and shopper experience, which will support future growth."
Gobbetti agreed on Tuesday, noting that Bailey's role in the past 15-plus years has been "instrumental" to the brand. "While I am sad not to have the opportunity to partner with him for longer, the legacy he leaves and the exceptional talent we have at Burberry give me enormous confidence in our future," he said in a statement. "We have a clear vision for the next chapter to accelerate the growth and success of the Burberry brand and I am excited about the opportunity ahead for our teams, our partners and our shareholders."
Pearce said that, because of that, Burberry has "big boots to fill," but that the company is giving itself a good chance to accomplish that.
"With just over a year until Bailey leaves, there is plenty of time for Marco Gobbetti, who took over as CEO in July, to find the right candidate to fill Bailey’s shoes," she said. "It is crucial that Burberry finds someone with respect for the brand’s British heritage but is able to further evolve the label creatively and bring it into a new era."