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Dior taps Fendi's fountain of youth in bid for luxury's future

Mr Pietro Beccari, chief executive officer of the Italian fur-and-leather purveyor, has been tapped by parent LVMH to take over leadership of Christian Dior Couture in early 2018.

[PARIS] At luxury house Fendi, Pietro Beccari made Kendall Jenner walk on water. His next assignment: to make Christian Dior fly again.

Mr Beccari, chief executive officer of the Italian fur-and-leather purveyor, has been tapped by parent LVMH to take over leadership of Christian Dior Couture in early 2018. Over the past five years, he's moved Fendi to the forefront of luxury branding, offering customers a full-immersion experience ranging from eye-popping stores and a whimsical e-commerce site to a boutique hotel and VIP suite in the Roman palazzo that houses its flagship store.

The Fendi chief also cemented the brand's ties to Rome, sponsoring art exhibits and cultural restoration projects and staging a runway show last year in which Jenner and other models traversed a plexiglass runway atop the Trevi Fountain - a Roman landmark that had been renovated under the brand's sponsorship.

"Beccari has done an amazing job of taking the craft of the house and using it in a very modern way," Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at online luxury retailer Net-a-Porter, said.

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"At Dior there's something to be done in terms of modernising their communications - making it more playful."

Mr Beccari's challenge will be to take Dior, the first luxury asset French billionaire Bernard Arnault acquired on the way to assembling industry leader LVMH, and restore its status as a trend-setter. While the brand's tight-waisted "New Look" helped revive the French fashion industry after World War II and its clients have run the gamut from Ava Gardner to Melania Trump, it's become an elder statesman in an industry being revived by designers such as Gucci's Alessandro Michele.

Under Sidney Toledano, who's moving on from his position as Dior CEO to a supervisory role at other LVMH brands, Dior has been one of the steadiest performers in fashion, growing an average of 12 per cent a year since 2000. But the output of chief designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, hired in 2016 as the first woman creative director since Dior's founding in 1946, has drawn mixed reviews.

Menswear collections by Kris Van Assche pass largely unnoticed - a far cry from the agenda-setting power the brand enjoyed a decade ago when Hedi Slimane's skinny suits and jeans set the pace for the industry.

Meanwhile, the luxury industry's changing fast. Gone are the days when growth could be achieved simply by opening another store in China, or even by designing a generation's must-have handbag or heels. Led by millennials newly attuned to the allure of high fashion, consumers visit stores to envelop themselves in the brand and its provenance - and then do their buying at home, online.

"Dior needs a rejuvenation," particularly online, said Marco Pozzi, senior adviser at Milan-based digital marketing consultancy ContactLab.

Mr Beccari, 50, carried out a multipronged revamp of Fendi after taking over in 2012 following a six-year stint as marketing and communications director at LVMH's Louis Vuitton. Under his leadership, Fendi doubled down on its identity as a specialist in high-end leather and furs, ditching entry-level logo-printed canvas handbags to focus on US$4,000 Peekaboo bags, US$12,000 fox-fur coats and intricate, handmade ensembles that can cost as much as $1 million.

Fendi hasn't ignored its retail network, opening new stores in Australia, Japan and the US, including boutiques in New York, San Francisco and Dallas. Rather than sitting on shelves against cold marble walls, handbags dangle from golden wands. Entry-level shoppers can still get "bag bugs" - furry charms to personalize their handbags - for US$650 and up.

The website's holiday gift guide invites shoppers to explore "Fendi Land" - an animated depiction of a carnival that walks them through the brand's range. Fendi under Beccari "has become a top performer in terms of how to convey a luxury experience to clients when they purchase online," Mr Pozzi said.

While those investments have been costly, Fendi's expanded scale helps to offset the expense, says Rogerio Fujimori, a luxury analyst at RBC Capital Markets in London. LVMH doesn't break out figures for individual brands, but RBC says Fendi has sales of about US$1.1 billion, with a profit margin over 20 per cent. Mr Fujimori estimates that Dior's margin, as gauged by earnings before interest and taxes, is in the low teens.

Mr Beccari should be able to improve profitability at Dior, Mr Fujimori said, "because of the power of the brand, its scale".