Monday, Feb. 09, 2004

Floriane De Saint Pierre

Finding Just The Right Fit For The Brand

When Floriane de Saint Pierre was 6 years old, she would go with her mother at the start of every season to Yves Saint Laurent's boutique on the Avenue Victor Hugo, near their Paris apartment. "She was not buying anywhere else," says Saint Pierre, remembering how her mother would stock up on the designer's striped sweaters, wedge-heeled espadrilles and khaki trousers.

So it's no surprise that from her perch at the top of Europe's leading executive-search firm for the fashion and luxury industries, Saint Pierre demonstrates a philosophy — and forte — of recruiting top-level hires who have a particular brand in their blood. "For me, each brand is like a tribe, a clan," she says. "The managers and designers need to be in total osmosis with the essence of the brand. It is like a marriage."

Saint Pierre, 39, has worked behind the scenes to facilitate some of the most illustrious unions in fashion: Christopher Bailey as creative director at Burberry (whose vision, she says, "was so much about this English attitude, the heather and the rain, and immediately we felt that he had the DNA in his blood"), Italo Zucchelli as the menswear design director at Calvin Klein, Christophe Lemaire as creative director for Lacoste. She also placed Narciso Rodriguez and Lanvin's Alber Elbaz in their first design-director positions.

It was, in fact, thanks to a headhunter that Saint Pierre veered into the business of matchmaking. After a six-year stint in finance at Christian Dior, she was plucked to help build the fashion practice of an executive-search firm. She stayed three months before starting her own Paris-based company in 1990, at the age of 26. Fashion's swiftly revolving door is showing no signs of slowing down, and neither is Saint Pierre. French luxury powerhouses like Christian Dior and Givenchy have had to develop succession plans as their designers have retired. Iconic Italian houses will probably be next, says Saint Pierre, marveling at who could fill the shoes of, say, Giorgio Armani or Valentino. And, she adds, "for sure within a decade the major U.S. designers will face the same challenge." No doubt they will know where to reach her.