bal harbour blog

Identity Shift

Laurent Claquin, head of Kering Americas.

By Kate Betts

Not many executives in the fashion business have a surfboard and a skateboard propped up against the wall outside their office door. Fewer still would prominently display the Albert Einstein quote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” in the reception area. But the U.S. headquarters of Kering, the French luxury group formerly known as PPR, have more character than most midtown Manhattan offices thanks to Laurent Claquin, the head of Kering Americas. Claquin, a handsome 40-something Frenchman from Quimper, the seaside town in Brittany famous for its pottery, moved to New York City from Paris two years ago to oversee what he calls a transformation of the luxury group that includes Saint Laurent, Gucci, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Altuzarra, which it recently took a minority stake in.

“We were talking about the transformation of the group—a new name and an identity change,” explains Claquin, who had previously been the head of corporate communications for the group for eight years. “It all came together, personally and professionally. The move made sense.” At that time, François-Henri Pinault, the chairman and CEO of the group and scion of the Pinault family, had made the decision to focus the business on fashion and accessories. He sold the rest of the company’s properties and transformed PPR from a conglomerate to a more cohesive group.

It also made sense to change the identity of the group and to find a name that meant something, “not just a bunch of letters,” says Claquin. “We wanted a name that expressed the way we take care of the business, our environment, the people we work with,” he adds. Ker, which means house or home in Breton, made sense as a root of the name not only for its meaning, but also for the fact that the Pinault family is from Brittany, a region of France that is very proud of its heritage (not to mention its surfing spots). “To have home in the name is like you know where you’re coming from,” says Claquin. The emblem, an owl, represents global vision, discretion and protective qualities, but it also refers to a collection of owls on Pinault’s father’s desk.

For the company, the transformation is huge, marking it as a true global business rather than one simply based in France. (There is also a Kering headquarters in Asia.) For Claquin—whose previous career was in the art world working in communications at Paris’ Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume and at the Centre Georges Pompidou—the move to New York opened up new vistas, too. “Coming from France, New York is impressive, especially the enthusiasm and the positive energy,” he says. It was his love of art as a kid that would eventually lead him to the fashion world, albeit on a circuitous route. “When I was 12, I remember visiting the museum in Quimper with my school. My parents didn’t have any paintings or anything in the house, but I knew right away that art was my passion. I wanted to be an auctioneer.” Later, after a business school degree and stint at PricewaterhouseCoopers, he answered an advertisement in Le Monde for a job at the Jeu de Paume. Soon he was organizing private events at the museum for fashion brands like Thierry Mugler and Hermès. Then, when he moved to a job at the Pompidou, he met Pinault and eventually went to work for him.

These days, when he isn’t visiting Gucci or Balenciaga stores or overseeing communication about Gucci’s Chime for Change concert in London last June with Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige, Claquin likes to reconnect with his early love of fine art, visiting art galleries in Chelsea and checking out new exhibits at MoMA. If living in New York was something Claquin always imagined he would do, then Albert Einstein’s quote, spelled out in bold letters right outside his office, makes total sense.

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