Ahead of top management changes later this year, Christopher Bailey is fortifying the creative team at Burberry with two senior appointments in key growth areas.
Sabrina Bonesi will become design director, leather goods and shoes, a new role. Bonesi, a leather-goods expert who previously worked for Dior, will be responsible for men’s and women’s bags, shoes and accessories.
At Dior, Bonesi was head designer for women’s leather goods. She has also worked for Prada and helped design collections for brands including Bottega Veneta, Marni, Ferragamo and Tod’s.
She starts Monday and reports directly to Bailey, chief creative and chief executive officer.
A Burberry spokesman confirmed Bonesi’s appointment, but declined to comment on it.
In July, Bailey will relinquish his ceo role and take on the new title of president while remaining chief creative officer. Marco Gobbetti, who joined Burberry in January as executive chairman, Asia-Pacific and Middle East, will take over as ceo in July.
In January, Bailey added another senior executive to the team, Claudia Plant, a Net-a-porter cofounder who had been with that company since its inception. Plant served as global brand creative director at the Net-a-porter Group until last December.
Plant’s title at Burberry is senior vice president, brand experience. Hers is also a new role and she will report directly to Bailey. She is working across online and offline channels, and her remit is to bring fashion and products to life for customers, and help to establish a strong editorial voice that will support brand and product initiatives.
The spokesman also confirmed Plant’s appointment.
The appointments are a clear indicator that Bailey remains committed to the brand where he has worked since 2001 (he’s been ceo since 2014) and that fresh creative blood is key to Burberry’s future in a changing climate for luxury goods. Other creative appointments are understood to be in the works.
Against a backdrop of slowing demand, changing tourist flows and consumer habits, Bailey outlined an austerity plan in May aimed at saving 100 million pounds, or $123 million, by 2019. As part of the plan, the company has been streamlining operations and slashing the number of products on offer.
Burberry’s overarching strategy is to outstrip luxury market growth, which is projected to be 2 to 3 percent in coming years.
Since the plan was unveiled, Burberry has been simplifying operations, cutting costs and shifting the retail focus away from tourists to locals and a younger, digitally engaged customer base. The company has also been reducing its product assortment in a bid to clarify its offer in customers’ eyes, and to emphasize “fashion and newness” in the collections.
Of his and Gobbetti’s future roles, Bailey has said: “I will focus more specifically on design, the products, creativity, architecture, marketing, communication, experiences. He will focus more on the operational side, finance, retail and merchandising. I see this really as two pieces working together. We will jointly lead all the strategies and people.”
Accessories is Burberry’s largest product category, accounting for nearly 40 percent of revenue in the first half of fiscal 2016-17. At reported exchange rates, the category grew by 8 percent, year-on-year, to 426 million pounds, or $588 million.
But stripping out the benefits of the weak pound, underlying accessories revenue fell 1 percent.
Burberry said bags outperformed in the six months to Sept. 30 with the runway rucksack and the new Buckle bag leading the way. The Bridle bag was the number-one selling item from the September runway collection, Burberry’s first see-now-buy-now, coed outing, according to the company.
There is, however, room for improvement: Last May, UBS said in a frank report that Burberry’s handbag pricing was well below that of its luxury peers — about 14 percent lower — and that there were opportunities for growth in large leather goods, and notably in handbags.
Bailey told WWD in November that bags and backpacks have come to the fore as the company reorganizes its operations, and added that Burberry had started to develop more commercial, lower-priced iterations of some of the runway pieces.
With regard to improving Burberry’s digital and editorial credentials, there are few more experienced operators than Plant, who was at Natalie Massenet’s side when she launched Net-a-porter in 2000. She also worked with the new Yoox Net-a-porter management after the companies merged in 2015.
E-commerce is the fastest-growing channel in the industry, and Burberry has said its aim is to leverage its digital capability to drive revenues on its own platform and through third parties, and convert its fan base into loyal customers.
The company has recently launched a redesigned web site for desktop, with an enhanced browsing and purchasing experience, while a new app is in the works.
While the efficiencies and improvements have begun to pay off, Burberry has also been benefiting from the weak pound.
After a tough start to the 2016-17 year, third-quarter retail performance grew by 22 percent to 735 million pounds, or $911.4 million, with underlying sales up 4 percent in the three months to Dec. 31, fueled mostly by like-for-like growth rather than new stores.