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Designer Ralph Lauren hands over chief executive role to Old Navy executive

Published 30/09/2015

Designer Ralph Lauren, right, poses in his office with Stefan Larsson (AP)
Designer Ralph Lauren, right, poses in his office with Stefan Larsson (AP)

Ralph Lauren is leaving his role as chief executive of the fashion and home decor empire that he founded nearly 50 years ago.

The New York-based company announced that Stefan Larsson, the global president of Gap's thriving low-price Old Navy chain, will take on the role.

The change will be effective in November, and Mr Larsson will report to Mr Lauren who will continue to drive the company's vision and strategy as executive chairman and chief creative officer.

As global president of Old Navy for three years, Mr Larsson remade the business into a bright spot in Gap's portfolio.

Before his tenure at Old Navy, Mr Larsson was part of an executive team at Swedish cheap chic fashion chain H&M for 15 years that grew its operations to 44 countries from 12.

In an interview with Mr Lauren in his luxurious wood-panelled office in Manhattan, the 75-year-old designer emphasised that he is not slowing down but sees Mr Larsson, 41, as a partner as the company spearheads future sales growth.

"I am here, and I am not leaving," said Mr Lauren. "Stefan is coming to the company because I really believe he's going to be an interesting addition."

Asked whether he chose Mr Larsson because of his success in fast fashion, Mr Lauren acknowledged he was a good businessman but more importantly they shared a common vision.

He said that he was looking for a proper chief executive and the two connected over dinner and then had subsequent meetings.

"He understands what dreams are," Mr Lauren said. "In this business, it's about dreams because you are dreaming ahead and you're about progress and change and newness."

Mr Lauren, who started the company 48 years ago selling ties, has built a vast empire that includes women's, men's and children's clothing, home decor, accessories and now restaurants.

But after years of surging growth, Ralph Lauren has seen its revenue slow down, and overall shares have fallen 44% so far this year.

To pump up sales, Ralph Lauren has added three new brands over the past two years: Polo for Women, Polo Sport and Denim and Supply. The company has also been beefing up its online presence.

"What attracted me to take on this role was Ralph himself and his vision," Mr Larsson said.

"So my job is to work side by side with Ralph, refine it and grow the company into the future."

As of late June, Ralph Lauren operated 467 company-owned stores, including Club Monaco and Polo Factory stores. The company also operated 558 concession shops worldwide.

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