Christopher Bailey Steps into CEO Role at Burberry

There is another change in effect today (aside from the Chinese trademark revisions): Burberry's chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, is officially stepping into his role as CEO. He succeeds Angela Ahrendts, whose resignation became effective yesterday, the London-based company said today in a statement. Bailey, 42, has a tough act to follow. Under Ahrendts, who led Burberry for almost eight years, sales more than doubled and the shares gained more than threefold. Ahrendts left to run retail operations at Apple Inc. 

Since joining Burberry from Gucci in 2001, Bailey has transformed the British heritage brand into a full-fledged luxury-goods maker. He enlivened Burberry’s classic designs by using new colors and materials and introduced more expensive ranges including the Prorsum and Brit ready-to-wear collections.

Now, in addition to serving as chief creative officer, a position he began occupying in 2009, Bailey is also responsible for the company’s overall image, including advertising and store design as CEO. The dual role of creative director and CEO is pretty noteworthy, as we are most accustomed to the two jobs being somewhat firmly separated (think: Frida Giannini and Patrizio di Marco at Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Robert Duffy, Raf Simons and Sidney Toledano at Dior, YSL and Pierre Bergé, etc.).

The move, however, isn't the first of its type. In fact, we saw something similar at Prada earlier this year. Miuccia Prada is now splitting time between her role as creative director and co-CEO. Miuccia stepped down from the company’s chairman position and now acts as co-chief executive officer along with her husband, Patrizio Bertelli. According to a statement from the house in February, Miuccia “will concentrate on the day-to-day management of the business by devoting her time to guiding the further development of the group, mainly in the creative design and brands communications activities."

Moreover, Hedi Slimane certainly acts as an honorary CEO over the Saint Laurent collection, where he was named creative director in 2012. Slimane, who relocated design to Los Angeles and renamed the brand's ready-to-wear collection, his hand in everything from the designs, themselves, and the ad campaigns to the design of the brand's stores, the sets and the music for the runway shows (and the ad campaigns) and maybe most importantly, the complete overhaul of the brand's image. He also has the final say on all castings, and for awhile there, he even had control over the brand's social media. He technically holds the title of creative director, Slimane arguably shares quite a bit of work with Francesca Bellettini (the company's CEO post Paul Deneve's move to Apple).

From the sounds of things, creative directors acting as CEOs is not actually a red flag; in fact, it may even make sense. At a design house or a bigger brand, the creative director has a lot of help in terms of design. Hence the term, creative director (as opposed to "designer"). Bailey, for instance, has a small handful of designers under him (minus one who will be jumping ship from the Prorsum collection to Raf Simons eponymous collection within the next several months), who do most of the work. This essentially leaves him with the time and ability to oversee the greater scheme of things for the brand and how such designs come into play in terms of the overall strategy and the future of the brand. Additionally, brands, such as Burberry, have chief financial officers, which is crucial. While guiding the direction of a brand in terms of branding and aesthetics is one thing, managing a balance sheet is another. Thanks to the presence of such financial positions, Bailey can have the "overall responsibility for creating and delivering the next chapter in Burberry's global vision and business strategy" without venturing into unknown territory because at the end of the day, creative directors cannot be expected master absolutely everything.

But with the expanding role of the creative director, the question is: What designer will be stepping into the role of CEO next?