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Apple poaches Yves Saint Laurent boss Paul Deneve to add fashion skills ahead of iWatch launch

Computer giant preparing for push into 'wearable technology'

The sleek designs of its fashion-conscious products are the equal of any catwalk display. Now Apple has caused a stir by poaching the head of Yves Saint Laurent as the computer giant prepares to make a push into "wearable technology".

Paul Deneve, chief executive of the haute couture fashion house, announced that he is quitting in order to move to Cupertino, California, where he will work on "special projects" at Apple, reporting directly to Tim Cook, the company's CEO.

Deneve's move follows speculation that Apple is preparing to launch an internet-connected "iWatch" which investors hope could prove the next game-changing product, following the iPad and iPhone.

A 53 year-old Belgian, who worked in sales and marketing for Apple in Europe in the 1990s before starting a career in fashion, Deneve is well-placed to ensure that the "iWatch" has the design appeal to take on high-end brands like Rolex in the luxury chronograph market.

Revenues at Yves Saint Laurent nearly doubled under Deneve, who is a marketing and brand image expert.

Apple's most successful products bear the sleek, intuitive imprint of design guru, Sir Jonathan Ive. Deneve, who previously ran the French fashion houses Nina Ricci and Lanvin, brings experience of marketing luxury, wearable goods.

Cook, Steve Jobs's successor, has insisted that Apple has not lost its innovative edge, since the 2011 death of its driving force. Deneve has shown he is unafraid to take risks.

He brought in controversial designer Hedi Slimane to give Yves Saint Laurent a complete makeover, telling him to revive the fashion house's "revolutionary spirit" of the 1960s.

Having recently trademarked "iWatch" in a number of jurisdictions, Apple is expected to kick-start the "smart watch" market, with a device that effectively puts an iPhone on a user's wrist.

Analysts expect the "iWatch", which would allow users to read emails, run video and respond to social media notifications, to sell for around £200.

Samsung and Google are developing their own smart watches which will be compatible with consumers' smart phones or tablets.

A basic £110 Cookoo watch already alerts iPhone users to incoming calls and allows them to operate the phone camera remotely, via a Bluetooth link.

Apple could also develop a high-end "iWatch", incorporating the classic design of a vintage timepiece, to compete with luxury brands like Rolex.

After a dip during the 2008 financial crisis, luxury watch sales are rising again. UK sales rose by 4 per cent market in 2012, contributing to a global market worth $35 billion. Total watch sales are predicted to show a 30 per cent rise by 2017, according to Euromonitor.

An Apple spokesman said the company was "thrilled to welcome Paul Deneve", who was named vice president of "special projects", with a direct line to Mr Cook. The company would not detail exactly what Deneve's job would entail.

Apple is continuing to seek a chief retail officer after the holder of that post, John Browett, was ousted last year.

Yves Saint Laurent said Deneve will be replaced by Francesca Bellettini, who is a director at Bottega Veneta, another luxury brand owned by French fashion giant Kering. Slimane's role has been expanded to include the supervision of "all strategic projects for the brand," the fashion house said.