In a bold strategy move from Apple
, the technology giant announced last week the hiring of Paul Deneve, Saint Laurent's
CEO, as Vice President of "special projects" to report directly to Tim Cook.
The 52-year-old from Belgium is not new to the house of iPhone — he worked for the Apple marketing division for seven years until Steve Jobs' comeback in 1997. Deneve's resume is tailored to suit Apple's current needs. He has degrees in Business and Management and before his first Apple run he worked in the industry sector for ExxonMobil. After his departure in 1997 he started his incursion into the fashion world, first working as a Managing Director for the French house Courreges and then becoming CEO of Nina Ricci. His meteoric career took off when he became president of Lanvin under L'Oreal's umbrella and was then appointed CEO of the Yves Saint Laurent group in 2012. His arrival to YSL
was recently after the founders of the fashion house death — a parallelism with Apple's current situation — and he appointed Hedi Slimane as the new creative director. Many considered his arrival the revitalization and source of the new revolution within YSL. As Bloomberg
pointed out when the news broke out, many see his radical marketing strategy changes in YSL as the reason why the brand took off again as a reference in runways around the globe.
The reason behind this move within Apple's executive branches is still not unveiled, but many are speculating with the relation between Deneve's presence and the recent rumors about the iWatch. But looking at the overall picture — Apple has not been at its peak in the last years — it is true that Steve Jobs' shadow is a long one for Tim Cook and the whole company to run away from, but as ElPais
reported a few months ago, Apple's problem are many, but they can all be swiped with a single solution: The Revolutionary Product. Just like Jobs did after his return with iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, not just by marketing a new object of desire but by having thousands of competitors in the market following his trend; Apple needs that new product that can bring back the magic and it might require a few brains working together to match Jobs' genius. It is true that Jonathan Ive can still do his design and Cook can control the masses, but without that new spark to bright up the eyes of the consumers, Apple is just another name out there on the shelves. When asked about the soft assets that Deneve can bring to Apple, Rocio Gomes, a fashion blogger
with international experience in fashion management, responded that " Is there anything that Paul Deneve cannot bring to Apple? He knows the company and its philosophy. His expertise in Marketing will provide a new light on how to change the direction, he will generate new and fresh ideas for the brand positioning and development to compete and differentiate from the other players."
What can a mind so blended in the world of luxury fashion bring to the table of a consumer technology company? According to the experts, lots, especially when that company is Apple and there is so much attention for detail. In an interview with Erika Alvarez, a MSc International Fashion Marketing from GCU, London
, she observes that "Fashion is not only about clothes and shoes, it can be about hairstyles, music and even technology. Paul Deneve has the ideal experience in some of the most important luxury brands such as Nina Ricci and YSL; and he has helped define some modern fashion trends. With his previous experience working for Apple in marketing I am sure that he will develop an excellent role combining fashion trends strategies and the current needs people have from technology."
Is Apple trying to grow a new niche market around a wearable technology product? Most probably. Is the appointment of Deneve based on his past experience with placing luxury products in the market? Maybe. Let's not forget that it is not about the product itself, it does not matter if it is a phone, a music player or a screen computer, what Apple has proved over the last decade is that the marketing and packaging is even more important than the content itself. When it comes to the combination of style and technology, Rocio Gomes agrees that "Paul Deneve is the right choice to combine fashion accessories with consumer technology but personally I believe that he has been recruited again by Apple to do something bigger. Apple has cash and needs to invest it somewhere. The fashion business can provide huge margins when handled correctly. Who could be Apple's best advisor for this new era? By doing this Apple will diversify its portfolio and I can't imagine anoyne better than Paul Deneve, one of the Top fashion names in recent times." Similarly, Erika Alvarez thinks that "Apple and Deneve can do a very good job together. Leveraging the high position of quality that Apple has reached in the market and Deneve's experience within the fashion industry, I can imagine that they will able to create the definitive fashion wearable device that will set the trend for the rest to follow. Even if they create a special line of wearable products that only an specific niche of market can own, I am sure that thousands of people will make long queues in the Apple stores on the launch day."
Today, as the market settles after a new product is launched, there are more and more people carrying the same phone, the same laptop and the same tablet. But it was not always like that — Apple's line of products had a halo of exclusiveness as if the owner belonged to a different club than the rest, quoting Jobs' words: "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently." And the current situation draws more parallelism to the moment that Deneve arrived at YSL, which was recently after its eponymous founder had died and with less public admiration than merely three years ago. But as Alvarez points out: " The moment an item becomes accessible for everyone is not a luxury good anymore. Nowadays, people can own more than one Apple product. Therefore, I would say that Apple is looking for a good fashion marketing strategy more than a luxury strategy. It will help the company to continue being the biggest leader in the market."
At the end of the day, the "special projects" that Deneve has been given the reigns of are as secret as Area 51. Rumors point towards wearable technology like the iWatch or maybe a whole new product all together that would actually surprise everybody, even its competitors. Whatever the secret is, this will be the first big moment in Tim Cook's solo career and it will play a big part in the fate of the company. If he passes the exam, Apple might recoup the share price losses from the last year and probably be seen again as the one and only dictating force in consumer technology; however, another batch of bad decisions and steps in the wrong direction might doom his career forever and who knows what could happen to a company that has not innovate but just update all its lines of products in the past three years.