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Dog Days At Ford's YSL: Nipple Coats and Penis Pendants

Paris, November 4, 2003 Capping months of speculation, the Gucci Group and parent company PPR (Pinault-Printemps-Redoute) have announced the resignation of Tom Ford as Artistic Director, as well as that of Domenico De Sole as CEO.

Rumors have been circulating Paris since January 2003 that the dynamic duo, which once resurrected Gucci from near bankruptcy, might not be long for their posts. During the recent Ready-to-Wear shows, with contract negotiations stalled, the collision between French billionaire François Pinault and the two Americans became the talk of the town. Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, was seen, less than discreetly, lobbying in behalf of Mr. Ford.

Troubles with one of the Group's most prominent subsidiaries, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, was the subject of a feature article at Fashionlines just weeks ago, and in fact proved to be the inextricable sticking point. Both Ford and De Sole were adamant about retaining control over the entire spectrum of the Group's labels (Saint Laurent included), while Serge Weinberg, CEO of PPR, wanted the two to concentrate exclusively on Gucci. After more than three years at the helm of Saint Laurent, Ford was unable to bring home the profits. Despite recent signs of a turnaround, Saint Laurent has continued to be a substantial drain on the Gucci balance sheet. A number of factors have contributed to the dismal showing - uneven press reviews, a gloomy world economy, and most recently, the crisis with Iraq, and the SARS epidemic in Asia.

Several French fashion editors, speaking on condition of anonymity, have suggested that Ford simply never had a firm grasp on the Saint Laurent label- a point not lost on either François Pinault or Serge Weinberg. For some, his edgy 90s style sex-obsessed collections failed to capture the lightness and coquetry that is uniquely French.

In a press release issued by PPR on November 4, PPR announced that intense negotiations had failed to lead to an agreement, and thus that when the contracts of Ford and De Sole expire in June and March of 2004, respectively, the leadership will change at Gucci Group.

"It is with great sadness that I envision my future without Gucci," said Tom Ford. "In the course of the last thirteen years, the company has been the center of my life."

For his part, Serge Weinberg added, "We greatly regret that we were unable to reach an agreement with Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole. This talented pair accomplished remarkable work in making the Gucci Group a worldwide reference for the luxury sector".

Both Ford and De Sole have agreed to stay on until April of next year to insure a smooth transition.

Gucci Group's board has set up a committee chaired by Serge Weinberg, and including Adrian Bellamy and François Henri Pinault, son of the founder, charged with selecting successors to Ford and De Sole.

The stakes are enormous for PPR and Gucci, both devastated by falling profits during the first half of 2003, and carefully eyed by uneasy stockholders.

According to sources, several names are under consideration for artistic direction of either Gucci or Saint Laurent, though Weinberg has said he wants the two under separate control. Alexander McQueen is most often cited as a possible successor to Ford, with Nicolas Ghesquière of Balenciaga, and Stella McCartney also on the short list.

Hedi Slimane recently extended his contract with Dior, and so is removed from consideration, while Alber Elbaz has stated his happiness with Lanvin.

Perhaps the most intriguing question is what role, if any, the maître Yves Saint Laurent, who is said to be restless in his premature retirement, might have on future proceedings.

As the French are want to say, "on verra", wait and see.