PARIS — French fashion executive François Baufumé — who helped retool and energize the Kenzo and Christian Dior Couture businesses in the ’80s and ’90s — died suddenly on Friday in Saint-Jean-de-Luz at age 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 his three grandchildren.
Baufumé was predeceased in 2016 by his second wife, Rosanna Oddone-Baufumé, who served as collection director at Guy Laroche under then chief executive officer 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, lauding Baufumé as “the first French executive to introduce the modern fashion-business model.”
“François was a great and bold entrepreneur, an outstanding executive and a charismatic leader,” he added. “Despite — or perhaps because of — his famous temper tantrums, he was a very warm and endearing character who knew how to enjoy life. He was definitely a model for all of us.”
A graduate of elite French business school HEC, Baufumé started his fashion career in 1971 at 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 Italian fashion giant Gruppo Finanziaro Tessile as export director for the women’s division, where he launched Giorgio Armani’s women’s collection.
He would spend the longest part of his career running the Kenzo fashion house in Paris, from 1980 to 1993, when the brand was acquired by then-budding luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
He built Kenzo into a fashion and perfume company with combined sales of roughly $150 million by 1992, extending the brand into menswear, jeans and childrenswear, and opening many key boutiques.
He would join Christian Dior Couture in 1993 at a pivotal moment in that brand’s development.
There, he helped whittle down the number of Dior’s licensees, which included a women’s clothing line produced by Jones New York and a historic pact for the entire nation of Japan, and expanded its retail and fashion businesses, laying some of the groundwork for the direct-control strategy all modern luxury brands would pursue.
Gianfranco Ferré was Dior’s couturier when Baufumé joined the French house. The creative reins were passed to John Galliano in 1996, igniting a period of rapid growth.
One of Baufumé’s other key hires came in 1993, when he and LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault plucked Sidney Toledano from accessories firm Lancel. Arnault was in the midst of assembling the world’s biggest luxury conglomerate and his plan was to build a handbag business at Dior and shift the business model from one dependent on licenses.
Toledano would take over the reins at Dior in 1998, after Baufumé left to become managing director of high-end Italian fabric mill Ratti, based in Como. Baufumé remained there until 2002 and wound up his illustrious career as president of French crystal maker Orfèvrerie Christofle, exiting that company in 2005.
Besides his executive work, Baufumé played a key role piloting the Cité de la Mode project, an idea launched by France’s Chambre Syndicale to group France’s best fashion design and management schools under one roof. He would also serve as a lecturer 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 CEO of Louis Vuitton, who worked at Dior from 1986 to 1993 and again from 1998 to 2003. “He was a textile guy. 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 of it. He knew the whole chain. He loved Italy.”
“I’m proud to have been his successor,” Sidney Toledano said in an interview. “He was a real entrepreneur.…I was inspired by the energy, the vision he had, and the leadership.”
Toledano described Baufumé as a driven but humble executive, who gave him “trust and freedom” to develop Dior’s leather goods business.
The two men stayed in contact and often met for dinner at a brasserie, Baufumé fond of good red wine and hearty food. Toledano said the executive was enormously cultured, able to recite important French poems by heart and he painted and swam in his spare time.
“We was 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.”