Burberry's Christopher Bailey to Exit Iconic British Brand

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The creative director is departing after 17 years.

Designer Christopher Bailey, who was replaced as Burberry chief executive earlier this year, will leave the British brand in 2018, ending a 17-year stint in which he helped transform a company once known mainly for trench coats into a global luxury icon.

Bailey added the title of CEO to his position as chief creative officer in 2014, taking on the unique dual role in recognition of how much his ideas had contributed to Burberry's success. But he struggled to reinvigorate sagging sales in the company's key Asian markets and was replaced by Marco Gobbetti of the French luxury fashion house Celine in July.

It was as a designer, however, that Bailey made his name. He took the company that made trench coats in World War I and wove its classic plaids into contemporary design. Banking on Britishness, he made it the center of Burberry's brand.

Long before other luxury houses even had the notion, he championed the use of the digital marketplace, embracing the new medium with innovations such as allowing shoppers to immediately buy online what they saw on fashion show catwalks.

"It has been a truly inspiring place to work and the decision to leave was not an easy one," Bailey said in a statement released Tuesday. "I do truly believe, however, that Burberry's best days are still ahead of her and that the company will go from strength to strength with the strategy we have developed and the exceptional talent we have in place."

Bailey will remain president and chief creative officer until March 31, when he will leave the board of directors, Burberry said. He will remain at the company until Dec. 31, 2018, to ensure a smooth transition.

Burberry said that as a result of his departure, Bailey has agreed to give up a total of 830,550 shares, valued at 16 million pounds ($21 million), that were awarded as part of his compensation packages between 2014 and 2017

Bailey took over during a time of strength for the company in May 2014, when former CEO Angela Ahrendts moved to Apple.

But the world economy soon turned against Burberry, with an economic slowdown in Asia and a Chinese government crackdown on luxury gifts eroding the brand's sales.

Shareholders soon began to ask questions about Bailey's pay package, which could have totaled as much as 7.6 million pounds including salary, allowances, a bonus and share awards. Others wondered whether the gifted designer had the right skill set to be CEO.

The company called in Gobbetti, who has a long track record of managing luxury retailers.

Gobbetti credited Bailey with being "instrumental" in Burberry's transformation, adding that he leaves behind a legacy of talent that gives him "enormous confidence" in the future.

"We have a clear vision for the next chapter to accelerate the growth and success of the Burberry brand, and I am excited about the opportunity ahead for our teams, our partners and our shareholders," Gobbetti said.

Bailey says that despite his departure he remains fully committed to Burberry's success.

"Burberry encapsulates so much of what is great about Britain," Bailey said in a statement. "As an organization, it is creative, innovative and outward looking. It celebrates diversity and challenges received wisdoms. It is over 160 years old, but it has a young spirit."