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Why Has Apple Been Poaching Fashion Execs?

Before the launch of Apple’s Watch, the company made a slew of fashion and luxury hires. But the moves at the notoriously secretive Apple are about more than wearable tech.
Angela Ahrendts, Apple's SVP of retail and online stores | Source: Getty Images/Bloomberg
  • Vikram Alexei Kansara,
  • Helena Pike

SAN FRANCISCO, United States — Apple has long applied the rules of fashion to the design and marketing of its popular iPod, iPhone and iPad devices, desirable not only for their functionality, but for their slick aesthetics and symbolic value, differentiating Apple users from others and signalling their affiliation with specific social tribes. But in the last couple of years, Apple has embraced fashion more overtly, making a slew of major hires from the fashion and luxury sector, including top executives like Paul Deneve, former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, and Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry.

Of course, a big driver of these moves is Apple’s Watch, the company’s first foray into wearable tech — personal accessories with embedded digital technology — widely predicted to be the next big thing in consumer electronics. Indeed, many of Apple’s fashion and luxury hires, including Paul Deneve and Patrick Pruniaux, former vice president of global sales and retail at Tag Heuer, are known to be working on Watch, which Apple is marketing as a luxury fashion accessory.

In February, a New Yorker piece revealed that Apple design chief Jony Ive was working closely with Angela Ahrendts, now the company's senior vice president of retail and online sales, to revamp Apple's retail stores in order to make them better suited to selling Watch. But the poaching of fashion and luxury executives like Ahrendts is about much more than one device. Indeed, at Burberry, Ahrendts oversaw the creation of a highly sophisticated new store template that is one of the world's leading examples of tech-infused 'retail entertainment' and omni-channel innovation, two pillars of a next generation customer experience. Ahrendts also brings to the table her knowledge of China, where Burberry has a formidable store network and Apple has big plans for retail expansion.

But underlying these hires is a deeper question: what kind of company does Apple want to be? From its original Apple Computer 1 to its new Watch, Apple has long sold consumer technology. But to call Apple a consumer technology company is to miss the magic of what has become the world’s largest corporation.

"The truth is that Apple doesn't sell phones (or computers or tablets); they sell iPhones," wrote Ben Thompson, founder of Stratechery, a blog on technology and business. "iPhones are not just hardware, but also the software that runs on them. But even that is missing the whole picture. To buy an iPhone is to buy into an experience that includes everything from advertising to following the news to visiting a store to buying a phone to unboxing to downloading apps to visiting a Genius and so on and so forth."

Seen through this lens, the hiring of executives from fashion and luxury brands, some of the best in the world at staging emotional customer experiences, is less about wearable tech (or retail or marketing) alone and more about the next chapter in Apple’s overall transformation from a tech company to a lifestyle experience brand.

So who are the fashion and luxury executives who have joined Apple to help the company fulfil its vision? Where did they come from? And what are they doing?

Angela Ahrendts, SVP of Retail and Online Sales
Angela Ahrendts came to Apple from Burberry, where, as chief executive, she partnered with creative director Christopher Bailey to drive the brand's impressive reinvention, turning the staid British heritage label into a global fashion powerhouse and, in the process, tripling the company's revenues. Ahrendts was closely involved in developing Burberry's next generation retail strategy and joins Apple as head of retail and online sales, where she has been working to revamp the company's in-store experience and better integrate online and offline channels. At Burberry, Ahrendts also oversaw the brand's retail expansion into China, where Apple has plans to grow a network of 30 to 40 stores.

Paul Deneve, VP of Special Projects
As one of the world's rare business leaders with extensive experience in both fashion and technology, Paul Deneve is a unique asset for Apple. Deneve held sales and marketing roles at Apple in Europe before managing a number of luxury fashion companies — including Lanvin, Courrèges, Nina Ricci and, most recently, Yves Saint Laurent — and his return to Apple, in 2013, completes his circuit from tech to fashion to tech. Deneve is currently vice president of "special projects," which is widely understood to encompass Apple's Watch.

Marc Newson, SVP of Design
British designer Marc Newson is one half of the two-man senior design team behind Apple Watch, along with his good friend, Apple's chief design officer Jony Ive. In fact, it was Ive who brought on Newson as senior vice president of design after the pair collaborated on a customised Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox watch in 2013. Although the appointment was not announced until September 2014 — when Apple's Watch was revealed to the public — Newson had already been working with Ive on the design of the company's first wearable device for some time. Newson's design career has seen him collaborate with luxury fashion brands like Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Azzedine Alaïa. In the 1990s, he also founded a Swiss wristwatch company called Ikepod, a venture that helped Ive conclude that Newson was the best choice to help him design Apple's Watch.

Patrick Pruniaux, Senior Director of Special Projects
Appointed senior director of "special projects" in August 2014, Patrick Pruniaux is a veteran of the luxury watch industry who spent five years as vice president of global sales and retail at Tag Heuer, the LVMH-owned mid-range Swiss luxury watchmaker. A long-time watch industry insider, Pruniaux's understanding of the market has helped Apple navigate its entry into this new product category.

Catherine Monier, Special Projects
Catherine Monier was hired to Apple's "special projects" team in the summer of 2014 to help develop sales strategy for the company's Watch. Like Deneve, Monier was previously at Yves Saint Laurent, where she was European president and global wholesale director. Before that, Monier was wholesale director at Céline and, previously, wholesale director of women's at Lanvin.

Marcela Aguilar, Global Director of Marketing Communications
An ad agency veteran and former senior global marketing and communications director at Gap, Aguilar joined Apple in September 2014 to direct the company's marketing and communications. Aguilar has been credited with helping to reverse Gap's sales slump in the early 2010s and has global experience in China, India and Brazil. Since Aguilar's arrival, Apple's marketing has shifted towards more lifestyle-oriented campaigns.

Anita Borzyszkowska, Consultant
Anita Borzyszkowska is a consultant helping to position Apple's Watch as a genuine luxury accessory and win the support of the fashion industry. A heavyweight PR and brand strategist, Borzyszkowska was previously head of Gap's global public relations and has brought to Apple her network of deep industry relationships. Borzyszkowska was responsible for enticing top fashion journalists and other industry insiders to participate in the launch of Watch, which has appeared on the wrist of Karl Lagerfeld and the cover of Vogue China.

Musa Tariq, Digital Marketing Director, Retail
Arriving at Apple in August 2014, Musa Tariq is the company's digital marketing director for retail. Like Ahrendts, with whom he enjoys a close professional relationship, Tariq also came from Burberry, where he was global director of social media — developing initiatives like the company's 'Tweetwalk' campaign and running the brand's expansion on social platforms in China — before shifting, in 2012, to Nike, where he was global senior director of social media and community. His appointment at Apple marks a U-turn in the company's approach to social media marketing, which has historically been muted.

Chester Chipperfield, Special Projects
Another employee to defect to Apple from Burberry, Chester Chipperfield joined the company's "special projects" team in January 2015. At Burberry, Chipperfield was vice president of digital and interactive design, a post he held from 2011. Working closely with Ahrendts, Chipperfield was one of the key figures behind the redesign of Burberry's e-commerce presence and brings his experience to Apple's digital retail strategy for the company's Watch.

Jacob Jordan, Director of Product Merchandising
Jordan joined Apple's "special projects" team as director of product merchandising in October 2014. He has a strong background in luxury merchandising, having come to Apple from Louis Vuitton, where he was director of men's ready-to-wear for two and a half years. Prior to that, Jordan was vice president of menswear at Theory. He brings his understanding of fashion merchandising to Apple, as the company adapts to selling a wearable accessory for the first time.

Lance Lin, Senior Public Relations Manager
Lance Lin was hired as Apple's senior public relations manager in January 2015. A former fashion editor at GQ magazine, who became director of PR at Gilt Group, Lin is familiar with the terrain of the fashion industry and brings to Apple a vital collection of industry contacts. He has played an important part in helping to position Apple's Watch as a luxury fashion accessory.

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