Marco Gobbetti steps down from Burberry: what might CEO's exit mean for the luxury label?

As the man who hired Riccardo Tisci leaves, might the acclaimed designer follow suit, too?

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a store of luxury brand Burberry at a shopping mall in Beijing, China March 26, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

Marco Gobbetti has stepped down as chief executive of British luxury house Burberry, after just shy of five years in the role.

He was appointed to the company in July 2017, from LVMH-owned Celine, to bring some much-needed stability to the house. He was called in to replace then-creative director Christopher Bailey as chief executive, who had been heading up both roles for three years in a plan that may have looked good on paper, but left Bailey overwhelmed and the brand wobbling from lack of strong leadership.

When Bailey himself stepped away from Burberry in 2018, he had painstakingly built it up over 17 years, steering it from being the fashion choice of tabloid stars to a serious international luxury player.

International Award honoree Riccardo Tisci, left, and actress Jessica Chastain pose in the press room at the 2013 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall on Monday, June 3, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP) *** Local Caption ***  2013 CFDA Fashion Awards Press Room.JPEG-0ccb2.jpg

Gobbetti was hired to build on that legacy, bringing experience and a revived energy to the brand.

One of his first moves was to appoint Riccardo Tisci to replace Bailey as creative director. Hot off a 12-year tenure at Givenchy (he left in January 2017), Tisci brought his unique vision of edgy – almost dangerous – clothes to Burberry, giving it a strong new attitude.

With each collection at the label, Tisci has tested out new ideas, growing in confidence and command with each. His most recent, for menswear spring / summer 2022, is deemed a true return to form and his most personal to date.

Now Gobbetti, the man who hired him, is leaving the UK, citing a wish to be closer to his family in Italy. After riding out endless British lockdowns, no one can blame him for wishing to be near his loved ones, but his departure raises other difficult questions, as there is no word from Burberry on who might replace him.

In a further twist, on Tuesday it was announced that Gobbetti will be joining the Italian house of Salvatore Ferragamo as the new chief executive.

Far smaller than Burberry – best estimates put it about roughly a third of the size – Ferragamo is ripe for regeneration and, interestingly, does not have a creative director, after Paul Andrew stepped down in May this year.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 23: In this handout image provided by Burberry, a model walks the runway during the Burberry Spring/Summer 2021 Menswear Presentation on June 23, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Burberry via Getty Images)

So now the question is: will Tisci remain at Burberry or will he, too, return to Italy to join Gobbetti, with whom he had an excellent working relationship?

With companies eager to smooth over transitions such as this, the lack of a statement laying out future plans suggests that Burberry's chairman, Gerry Murphy, may have been unaware of Gobbetti's departure in advance. The news, incidentally, sent Burberry shares tumbling 9 per cent.

Perhaps Burberry has a plan in place but if not, finding a replacement of Gobbetti's calibre will be no easy task, and could take months.

He brought a commercial focus to the house, pushing up prices while streamlining the luxury message behind the brand, and was in tune with Tisci’s vision. Together, the pair have shifted Burberry from looking to a British past (previous creative director Bailey used his love of Bloomsbury Set bohemia to backbone many of his collections), to focus instead on a bold new future, with strong, edgy collections that speak to a newer generation.

With so many questions now around Tisci’s future with the house, it may spell rocky times ahead, as all eyes shift to Ferragamo and what its future might offer.

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