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Alexander Wang Relinquishes CEO Role, Plants Seeds for New Direction

Former Goop and Martha Stewart Omnimedia head Lisa Gersh will assume the chief executive title, while ex-Farfetch marketer Stephanie Horton is joining as chief strategy officer.
Alexander Wang | Photo: Sloan Laurits for BoF
By
  • Lauren Sherman

NEW YORK, United States — Change is afoot at Alexander Wang.

After a year of leading both the creative and business sides of his namesake fashion brand, the designer is relinquishing his chief executive officer title, appointing former Goop and Martha Stewart Omnimedia head Lisa Gersh to the position effective immediately. Wang also recruited Stephanie Horton, the former chief marketing officer of luxury marketplace Farfetch, to take on the newly created role of chief strategy officer.

“I am honoured and excited by the opportunity to help Alex shape this remarkable company,” Gersh said in a statement. “The Alexander Wang brand has always represented style, innovation and an extraordinary standard of quality and excellence. I’m looking forward to working with Alex and the rest of the team to build on his foundation, and to continue to delight customers with our products and creative vision.”

“Pushing boundaries and extreme creativity has always been at the core of the Alexander Wang business,” added Horton. “I look forward to working with the team to expand these capabilities, as well as looking outside of traditional channels and spectrums, to develop new and innovative growth opportunities for the brand.”

Wang will remain creative director and chairman of the company's board of directors. New members of the board include Gersh, former Condé Nast executive Tom Florio and former News Corp and AOL executive Jonathan Miller.

Wang became chief executive in June 2016 after closing out a three-year stint as the creative director of Kering-owned Balenciaga. The decision aligned with a string of dual-role appointments at major fashion brands, including Christopher Bailey at Burberry and Marcus Wainwright at Rag & Bone. The risky strategy has yielded mixed results. In July 2016, Bailey announced that he would step down from the chief executive role amidst lagging sales.

While Wang's role is shifting, other changes made last June — including the appointment of Wang's aunt, Caroline Wang, as executive vice chairman of the board, and Mary Wang (of no family relation) as executive vice president overseeing global operations — will remain in place.

This latest reorganisation suggests more changes are ahead. Each of these newly appointed executives has a deep background in media, underscoring the increasing importance of content to commerce-led businesses.

Before Goop and Martha Stewart, Gersh co-founded the women’s cable television network Oxygen Media, which was acquired by NBCUniversal in 2007 for $925 million. Previous to Farfetch, Horton held leadership roles in the marketing departments at both American Vogue and the New York Times. More often than ever, consumers are making purchases via a drip feed of information; having strategists like Gersh and Horton as well as Florio and Miller on board may help to accelerate the brand's ability to build a genuine dialogue with its customer.

“The appointment of CEO, and the addition of a CSO position, highlight our ongoing strategy of productivity and diversification,” Wang said in a statement. “In a rapidly changing retail environment, it’s necessary for us to continually challenge the status quo. In my year as CEO I’ve been able to reflect and assess the strengths and opportunities of the company and set the stage for future growth. Lisa and Stephanie’s diverse backgrounds in the media, lifestyle and digital landscape will help us continue to position the business to expand into new categories and territories.”

In the past year, Wang has made a notable effort to move more of his business direct, staging increasingly democratic runway shows during New York Fashion Week that often feature items available immediately for purchase. He also embarked on a long-term partnership with Adidas Originals. The company currently operates five directly owned physical stores — one in New York, London and Beijing and two in Shanghai — as well as its e-commerce website and 20 partner stores elsewhere abroad.

However, the brand — which includes men’s and women’s collections, accessories, leather goods and the basics line T by Alexander Wang — is still deeply embedded in the wholesale business, available at more than 700 points of sale across the globe. The private company declined to disclose the current breakdown between direct and wholesale revenues. At the end of 2016, market sources indicated that the company was generating about $150 million in annual revenue, with 300 employees worldwide.

"In terms of the next phase, the lucky thing for us is that we are actually really nimble in terms of our retail," Wang told BoF in 2016. "We don't have to close down stores that aren't performing. Our big focus is digital. That's where we want to restructure our platform."

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