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Story by Lauren Indvik
In a surprise move, Apple announced Tuesday that it had hired Angela Ahrendts, the chief executive credited with turning Burberry around, as senior vice president of retail and online stores — a newly created position. Burberry, in an equally surprising and more unconventional move, announced that its chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, will be adding Ahrendts’ duties as CEO.
The hire is a huge coup for Apple: Ahrendts, 53, is arguably the most coveted CEO in fashion — and the best-paid CEO in the UK. Since taking over the helm of the company seven years ago, annual revenue has grown to nearly $3.2 billion, up more than 250% from 2006. The price of Burberry’s stock has risen even further, up 300% since her arrival to about $1,600 per share.
Ahrendts, along with Bailey, is credited with completely reinventing the legacy British house, which in 2006 had lost much of its prestige due in part to over-licensing of its brand. (As Fortune pointed out previously, retail and wholesale sales were up just 2.2% the year she arrived, under-performing the luxury sector’s 13% growth.)
Ahrendts’ first task was to buy back those licenses, including its fragrance licenses, and reposition Burberry as a luxury heritage brand. She also — importantly for Apple — aggressively expanded Burberry’s retail footprint, both on the ground in the United States, Europe and China. Strategically, she closed many under-performing stores as well. She also oversaw the reinvention of Burberry’s online flagship, using the website less as a sales channel and more as a destination for brand-rich experiences like Art of the Trench, Burberry Bespoke and live, shoppable videos of its runway shows.
“Under Ahrendts, Burberry stores have become bigger, richer and more technologically advanced”
Under Ahrendts, Burberry stores have become bigger, richer and more technologically advanced, the latter more than any other participant in the luxury sector. The crown jewel in Burberry’s retail empire is its 27,000-square-foot flagship store on Regent Street in London, which opened in September 2012.
As a retail experience, it’s impressive. Full-length screens wrap the store, transitioning between audio-visual content displays, live-streaming hubs and mirrors. At times, models walk between video screens; at others, rain begins to pour, climaxing in a thunder crack that shows on every screen and echoes in every space in the store, including fitting rooms. RFID chips have been attached to certain clothes and accessories so that when a customer approaches one of the screens in a fitting room, specific content — say, information about a bag’s stitching and craftsmanship, or a video showing how a skirt was worn on the catwalk — appears.
SEE ALSO: Why Burberry Wants to Bring the Online Experience to Stores, and Not Vice Versa
Ahrendts is largely credited for turning Burberry into a beacon of digital innovation. She has spearheaded many high-profile consumer-facing projects, broadcasting runway shows live in 3D, and embracing platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to reach millennial consumers. More impressive is her work on the back end, incorporating systems from Salesforce and SAP to improve internal and external communications, for example. (I highly recommend watching the video below.)