By Astrid Wendlandt
PARIS (Reuters) - Designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, who made his name resuscitating fashion brand Balenciaga, has been appointed creative director for womenswear at Louis Vuitton, the world's No.1 luxury brand, parent LVMH <LVMH. PA> said on Monday.
Ghesquiere was seen as the front-runner to replace Marc Jacobs who announced his departure from Louis Vuitton last month to focus on developing and floating his eponymous fashion business.
Ghesquiere will design Louis Vuitton's ready-to-wear and some of its fashion accessories but will not be involved with permanent bag collections such as the Neverfull, the Speedy or the new higher-end series like the Capucines, which cost 3,500 euros ($4,700) apiece.
"Ghesquiere, one of the favourite designers of the most sophisticated fashion insiders, could positively contribute to the repositioning of the brand towards more exclusivity," said Mario Ortelli, luxury goods analyst at brokerage Bernstein.
The appointment follows a series of leadership changes at Louis Vuitton, LVMH's biggest source of revenue and profit, aimed at helping the brand regain some of its lost prestige as sales growth more than halved over the past year.
Last month, Louis Vuitton hired Darren Spaziani, former Proenza Schouler accessories designer, to beef up its high-end offering of leather bags.
Earlier this year, Delphine Arnault, daughter of LVMH founder and chief executive Bernard Arnault, became deputy head of Louis Vuitton while last year, LVMH veteran Michael Burke replaced the brand's longstanding chief Yves Carcelle.
Louis Vuitton, the biggest luxury brand with more than 7.3 billion euros in annual sales, has seen sales growth steadily drop, hit by cooling demand in Asia and consumers' growing preference for no-logo products.
It has pruned its collection of logo bags, widened its offering of expensive leather bags and slowed down its store network expansion to tackle the perception that it is too ubiquitous. But the transition took its toll on growth.
Last month, Louis Vuitton posted an estimated 2 percent rise in third-quarter sales year-on-year, much lower than expected, rekindling worries about how long it would take for it to fight back and return to higher growth rates which have stood above 10 percent in the past two decades.
Louis Vuitton said Ghesquiere "will bring a modern creative vision to the House's women's collections." He will present his first collection in March 2014.
During his 15-year tenure at Balenciaga, Ghesquiere, 42, is widely credited with having helped turn the fashion label into one of the fastest-growing and most profitable brands of parent Kering <PRTP. PA> . Kering, formerly known as PPR, also owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta.
"This is good news, as he is well known to be both creative and respect the brand DNA, which is just what is needed," said Luca Solca, luxury goods analyst at Exane BNP Paribas.
Concerns about Louis Vuitton's future growth have weighed on the valuation of parent LVMH, which has been one of the worst performers of the luxury goods industry.
LVMH shares have risen just under 2 percent since January 1, while the European luxury goods sector gained more than 25 percent.
(Editing by James Regan and Sonya Hepinstall)