The next step in the remarkable evolution of the Apple brand may be just around the corner. In a move that “caught the fashion industry by surprise,” Apple has announced it is adding Paul Deneve, CEO of fashion giant Yves St Laurent (YSL), as a vice president of “special projects,” reporting to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
While heads are still spinning in the fashion sector, it isn’t as strange as it sounds. Deneve, after all, was with Apple’s European operation on the marketing side from 1990 to 1997, so he is hardly an unknown. Not to mention that YSL’s revenues just about doubled under his leadership.
While some see this move as directly related to Apple’s anticipated launch of an iWatch, others believe it has broader implications. “More likely it is to explore the extension of the Apple brand, or its platform technology into clothing and fashion,” notes Forbes. “Digital technology is in fact extending its reach to every aspect of life, including clothing and other wearables like glasses.” After all, the computer wearables market “is perfect for Apple to mainstream. It advances contextual computing. And it has the added virtue of being a bigger potential market than smartphones…”[more]
On $AAPL Paul Deneve hire: He knows how to translate wearable design vision into mass-market luxury profits. Makes sense to me
— Jon Fortt (@jonfortt) July 3, 2013
Tim Cook himself acknowledged at the AllThingsD conference in May that he found wearables “incredibly interesting” and a “profound area.” Apple has been reportedly experimenting with a smart watch, even as the Pebble eWatch gets ready for distribution in Best Buy this month. Just this week, new patent rumors feuled iWatch rumors.
Wearables do seem to be garnering a lot of attention lately, as proven by Google’s push to make Google Glass go mainstream, with co-founder Sergey Brin sporting them on an NYC subway. Once again, Apple and Google are positioned to knock heads in another market. But while Glass continues to be embroiled in debates over privacy and safety, Apple may emerge on top again if it successfully creates another advanced, yet user-friendly device.
Marketing and brand image is certainly Deneve’s forte, New York Magazine notes, and the divide between Deneve’s work at YSL and Apple isn’t really as big as one thinks: “How is an Apple product all that different from a really great designer bag? They’re both luxury items that look cool and should function well,” so it’s no wonder that Apple went after a luxury industry leader to spearhead its movement into unknown territory. After all, the brand has seen a decline in its reputation as of late, with a recent survey from Bloomberg indicating that 71 percent of consumers think that the company has lost its cachet as a tech innovator.
That’s not good news for the Cupertino, Calif.-based company, which is seeing increased competition from brands like Google and Samsung, as well as industry newcomers like Foxconn—Apple’s longtime manufacturing partner. And Apple will be far from the first to invest in wearable tech: Nike’s FuelBand technology is rampant in the sports arena, while the Pebble Smartwatch and others like it pose direct competiton to a rumored iWatch. However, Apple has long reigned superior as the purveyor of simple, clean technology. And while the brand has trudged through a bit of a product lull since the passing of Steve Jobs, MacWorld notes that there’s no chance that the company will release a sub-par product in an attempt to enter the emerging wearable market.
“Apple didn’t invent music players, smartphones, or tablets. But the iPod, iPhone, and iPad came to dominate their markets. So when Apple does release its incarnation of wearable technology, expect it to follow paths others have trailblazed but haven’t yet perfected. Apple takes inspiration from everywhere, but doesn’t release copycats: Whatever wearable technology comes out of Cupertino will be a distinctly Apple product.”
If the next great frontier in computing is digital technology embedded in clothing, Apple may be looking to become the leader in a new form of fashion—and Paul Deneve may be making one of the shrewdest moves of his career.