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The formidable YSL executive, who spearheaded a radical and costly overhaul of the French fashion house, will succeed Giacomo Santucci as president and managing director of the $1.9 billion Italian firm, effective Nov. 2.
Moving swiftly to fill a key vacancy — and perhaps stem a further drain of talent from its cash-cow brand — Gucci Group announced Lee’s appointment Monday.
It came less than a week after Santucci’s employment was “terminated” amid accusations of disloyalty, and only a day after employees were informed of the forthcoming exit of Tom Mendenhall, who resigned as Gucci’s worldwide merchandising director; it is believed he will join Abercrombie & Fitch in a senior management role. There, Mendenhall will work with Robert Singer, who resigned as Gucci Group’s chief financial officer this spring to become A&F’s president and chief operating officer.
In his new role, Lee, 41, reports to Gucci Group chief executive officer Robert Polet, who also continues as ceo of the Gucci brand. But sources indicated Lee ultimately will inherit the ceo title once Polet, former honcho of Unilever’s frozen foods division, gets better acclimatized to the luxury industry.
Meanwhile, another Gucci Group veteran, James McArthur — who oversees the Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga brands — will succeed Lee at YSL in an interim capacity.
In a statement, Polet characterized Lee, who first joined Gucci in 1996 as worldwide director of its ready-to-wear business, as an “obvious” choice.
“He combines a rare set of skills developed over eight years at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent: brand and product sensitivity, retailing experience, merchandising talent and great leadership and vision,” Polet said. “All of these skills were evident during his nearly five years at the helm of Yves Saint Laurent, and they are just what Gucci needs to maintain its position on the cutting edge of luxury.”
A slim and unassuming man, Lee has a reputation as a strong merchant and a dynamic leader with an airtight grasp on all aspects of his business. And although he was a key protégé of former Gucci Group ceo Domenico De Sole, Lee has been a deft survivor of the corporate upheaval that saw De Sole and designer Tom Ford exit as full ownership of YSL and Gucci fell to French retail conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute.