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And while Lee has strong ties to the French house, and aimed to steer it out of the red, he said he’s not alarmed about its long-term prospects.
“I’m not concerned because YSL remains a really great brand and there’s a fantastic team of people at YSL in Paris and all over the world that are really competent on both the creative and management sides,” he said. “It’s sad and it’s a change, but YSL will go forward.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Lee began his fashion career at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1984 as an assistant buyer of European designer collections. He went on to work for Cidat U.S.A., the firm that handled U.S. distribution of some Valentino lines, before joining Giorgio Armani for a five-year career, rising to commercial director of its U.S. arm. After that he worked at Jil Sander America Inc. as managing director before joining Gucci.
Lee was named president of YSL in November 1999 and imposed De Sole’s famous direct-control mantra for production and distribution, terminating more than 150 licensing pacts and setting out to build a global network of boutiques.
Sales in directly owned stores grew almost fourfold in 2003 to 90 million euros, or $101.9 million, while wholesale volume doubled to 48 million euros, or $54.3 million, converted at average exchange rates.
But the attempt to engineer a Gucci-esque rejuvenation drove the company deeply into the red. Operating losses at YSL in 2003 widened to $94 million, or 76.4 million euros, and no timetable has been set to reach break-even.
Critical of an inordinate focus on eveningwear and other decisions made during the Ford era, Lee recently unveiled a strategy based on growing sales by diversifying the product offering and capitalizing on such YSL icons as safari jackets, pantsuits and even logos.
One source suggested the brand would continue to flounder, given that designer Stefano Pilati, who succeeded Ford, received poor reviews for his runway debut earlier this month.
“Mark is an excellent manager, and critical in turning around YSL,” said the source. “He is key to the brand. Keep in mind that YSL doesn’t have a very seasoned designer, which is why the brand needs Mark’s leadership right now. It is not the time to pull Mark away.”