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Another crown for India: French fashion house Chanel appoints Leena Nair as the CEO

Nair spent 30 years at Unilever, most recently as the company's chief of human resources and a member of the executive committee

Another crown for India: French fashion house Chanel appoints Leena Nair as the CEO
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On Tuesday, Chanel chose Leena Nair, a former Unilever executive, as its next global CEO, appointing a consumer products veteran to lead one of the world's largest luxury goods brands.

Nair spent 30 years at Unilever, most recently as the company's chief of human resources and a member of the executive committee.

Nair is a rare outsider at the helm of the tightly controlled family design firm, noted for its tweed suits, quilted purses, and No. 5 perfume. Nair is a British national who was born in India.

The 52-year-old succeeds Maureen Chiquet, a US businesswoman with a fashion background who served as CEO of Chanel for nine years until early 2016.

Alain Wertheimer, a 73-year-old French billionaire who owns Chanel with his brother Gerard Wertheimer and had previously served as CEO on a temporary basis, will now serve as worldwide executive chairman.

Chanel began as a hat shop on rue Cambon in Paris in 1910, created by fashion queen Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, and has since grown to become synonymous with French elegant.

Nair, who handled 150,000 people at Unilever, will join the group at the end of January and will be located in London, according to the group. It went on to say that the new hires would ensure the company's "long-term success as a private company."

Nair's hiring comes at a time when the fashion industry is under pressure to exhibit a more inclusive attitude. He progressed through the ranks of Unilever after starting out as a trainee on the manufacturing floor.

According to a Harper's Bazaar storey published last month, under her leadership, Unilever achieved gender parity in global management, as well as a pledge to pay a decent wage across the supply chain.

Nair is a non-executive director of BT and formerly served as a non-executive director of the British government's department of business, energy, and industrial strategy.

Chanel has fought for its independence and has only recently begun reporting financial data. It announced in July that it anticipates sales to rise by double digits this year, compared to $12.3 billion in pre-pandemic 2019.

Chanel is following a trend of luring senior executives from the consumer packaged goods industry, according to Bernstein luxury goods analyst Luca Solca.

"Unilever and Procter & Gamble stand tall as management reservoirs for the relatively young luxury goods industry," he said, citing Antonio Belloni, LVMH's general manager and a former president of Procter & Gamble in Europe, and Estee Lauder CEO Fabrizio Freda, who is also a P&G veteran.

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