The designer credited with turning Mulberry into a fashion powerhouse loved by celebrities has quit in a management disagreement.
Creative director Emma Hill, who described her Mulberry team as “family”, is to leave after six years. Shares in the company immediately fell by 8 per cent.
The 42-year-old mother-of-one, who joined Mulberry in 2007 after spells at Burberry, Marc Jacobs, Marks & Spencer and Gap, created many of Mulberry’s best-known items such as the Alexa and Del Rey handbags, named after model and TV presenter Alexa Chung and American singer Lana Del Rey.
The company was founded 42 years ago by Roger Saul in Somerset but it was Ms Hill who cranked up the celebrity endorsements of the brand and put it on the fashion map.
Ms Hill began her career at Burberry after studying art and fashion in London. She then worked in New York and later spent a year in Paris working at Chloe.
The departure of Ms Hill, who was awarded a CBE last year, follows a change in strategy set in motion by new chief executive Bruno Guillon.
Mr Guillon joined in March last year from French über brand Hermès. The Paris-based fashion house is famous for its £10,000 Birkin and Kelly handbags and it is Mr Guillon’s experience here and his upmarket strategy at Mulberry that insiders think is the reason that Hill has decided to leave.
Mr Guillon has been trying to expand the awareness of the brand overseas but critics have said his desire to make the brand even more expensive will alienate its loyal following.
In its heyday of 2010/2011, a Mulberry handbag sold for around £600 but now its latest design – the Willow – sells for between £1,250 and £1,500. The London-based brand has issued three profit warnings in the past year and results on Thursday are forecast to see a 28 per cent drop in profits.
Mr Guillon is hopeful of a turnaround, with the expansion of new product categories including clothes and shoes and its new Willow handbag, created by Ms Hill.
Earlier this year Mr Guillon told The Independent that he wanted to “catch the new luxury customers” and shoppers in Asia, including Singapore and China, were top of his list to attract to the brand.
Ms Hill has put the spring/summer 2014 collection to bed and is said to be finishing off the London Fashion Week collection. Accessories designers play a critical role for luxury goods groups with their creations often making or breaking a collection.
British designers Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley were last month hired to lead American brand Marc by Marc Jacobs and Ms Hillier already works with brands including Victoria Beckham and Asprey. Some have speculated Mr Guillon will hire a designer that he has worked with back in Paris who is used to the top end of luxury.
Luca Solca, managing director of luxury at Exane BNP Paribas, said: “Mulberry is trying to reposition itself to the high-end – and emulate recent successes of brands like Bottega Veneta and Celine. I think this is not obvious for a brand like Mulberry.
“Mulberry in my view should be cheaper than Burberry and Gucci. There is now little choice for handbags priced between £250 and £600 with only a handful of players such as Longchamp and Coach and market results indicate that Mulberry’s upmarket ambitions are facing hurdles.”