PARIS — French fashion executive François Baufumé, who helped restructure and invigorate the businesses of Kenzo and Christian Dior Couture in the 1980s and 1990s, died suddenly in Saint-Jean-de-Luz on Friday at the age of 77.
Services are scheduled for Wednesday in Urrugne, France, according to a family announcement signed by his two daughters, Anouk and Blandine. Baufumé is also survived by her three grandchildren.
Baufumé passed away in 2016 by his second wife, Rosanna Oddone-Baufumé, who served as collection director at Guy Laroche under then CEO Ralph Toledano.
“He was a visionary,” said Toledano, who recently stepped down as president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, praising Baufumé as “the first French executive to introduce the modern business model of fashion.”
“François was a great and bold entrepreneur, an outstanding executive and a charismatic leader,” he added. “Despite his famous tantrums, or perhaps because of them, he was a very warm and endearing character who knew how to enjoy life. He was definitely a role model for all of us.”
A graduate of the elite French business school HEC, Baufumé began his fashion career in 1971 in Courrèges, where he ran the export business and developed the Japanese market for the Space Age brand.
In 1977 he moved to Italy and joined the Italian fashion giant Gruppo Finanziaro Tessile as director of exports for the women’s division, where he launched Giorgio Armani’s women’s collection.
He would spend most of his career running the Kenzo fashion house in Paris, from 1980 to 1993, when the brand was acquired by then fledgling luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
He built Kenzo into a fashion and perfume company with combined sales of approximately $150 million in 1992, expanding the brand into menswear, jeans, and children’s clothing, and opening many key boutiques.
He would join Christian Dior Couture in 1993 at a crucial time in the development of that brand.
There, he helped reduce Dior’s number of licensees, which included a womenswear line produced by Jones New York and a landmark pact for the entire nation of Japan, and expanded its retail and fashion businesses, laying some of the foundations for direct sales – a control strategy that all modern luxury brands would follow.
Gianfranco Ferré was Dior’s couturier when Baufumé joined the French house. The creative reins passed to John Galliano in 1996, beginning a period of rapid growth.
Another of Baufumé’s key hires came in 1993, when he and LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault hired Sidney Toledano of accessories firm Lancel. Arnault was in the midst of assembling the world’s largest luxury conglomerate and his plan was to build a handbag business at Dior and change the business model from one reliant on licensing.
Toledano would take the reins of Dior in 1998, after Baufumé left to become managing director of high-end Italian fabric factory Ratti, based in Como. Baufumé stayed there until 2002, ending his illustrious career as president of the company. French glassware Orfèvrerie Christofle, from which he left in 2005.
In addition to his executive work, Baufumé played a key role in piloting the Cité de la Mode project, an idea launched by France’s Chambre Syndicale to bring together the best fashion design and management schools in France under one roof. He would also serve as a professor at the Institut Français de la Mode, or IFM, which officially opened in 1985.
“He put Dior on the map in terms of ready-to-wear,” said Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, who worked at Dior from 1986 to 1993 and again from 1998 to 2003. “He was a textile man. . He was one of the believers in this industry. I learned a lot from him about ready-to-wear: the upstream part, the Italian part. He knew the whole chain. He loved Italy”.
“I am proud to have been his successor,” Sidney Toledano said in an interview. “He was a true entrepreneur…he inspired me with the energy, the vision that he had and the leadership.”
Toledano described Baufumé as a motivated but humble executive, who gave him “confidence and freedom” to develop Dior’s leather goods business.
The two men kept in touch and met often for dinner at a brasserie, Baufumé fond of good red wine and hearty food. Toledano said that the executive was highly cultured, capable of reciting important French poems by heart and that he painted and swam in his spare time.
“We were a very warm person, very human,” Toledano said. “He was always available if you needed to see him at any time… he really liked the fashion industry.”