Luxury fashion house Chanel has chosen Leena Nair, an Indian industry outsider and longtime Unilever executive, to be its new CEO.

Analysts say his hiring indicates how the brand explains the shift in consumer awareness of the industry’s environmental impact and the importance of diverse hires.

Nair tweeted that she was “humbled and honored to be named Global CEO of @CHANEL, an iconic and admired company.”

The news caused a stir on Wednesday in India, Nair’s birthplace, where she received dozens of kudos and compliments on her announcement, with one calling her a “serial glass ceiling breaker.” .

The appointment is full of “historic firsts,” said Abhay Gupta, CEO and founder of India consultancy group Luxury Connect.

“I am delighted. This is the first time that an Indian has run a global luxury brand, she is also an Indian woman, and it is the first time that an outsider in the fashion industry has been chosen, ”he said. -he declares.

People of Indian descent are the heads of a number of global tech, finance and other companies, but the same cannot be said of luxury brands. Gupta, who also runs a luxury management school, said his students would be “inspired” by the news.

“It’s very encouraging and motivating, especially since we’ve never seen this before. Coming from a non-luxury background, I expect her to bring a new perspective – it’s a sign that things are changing, ”he said.

While Nair, 52, is not part of the Parisian fashion scene, Chanel offers a wide range of products in addition to her high fashion designs, including eyewear, watches and makeup.

Nair succeeds billionaire co-owner and chairman of private company Chanel, Alain Wertheimer, as CEO. Grandson of the co-founder of Chanel, Pierre Wertheimer, he remains world executive president of the fashion house.

In a press announcement, Chanel said hiring Nair “will further ensure long-term success as a private company. Nair is due to take up her new role in January and she will be based in London.

British consumer goods giant Unilever describes Nair as his first wife, Asian first and youngest human resources manager. She joined Unilever in 1992 in India and rose through the ranks, spending time in the company’s factories early on.

Nair’s appointment is “a welcome change from the type of stereotypical role model of executives who tend to run big luxury brands,” said Imran Amed, founder and CEO of Business of Fashion, an influential news site on industry.

While it is not uncommon for fashion brands to bring in people from consumer goods companies for managerial positions, they typically come from marketing departments due to their expertise in brand management, l most important asset of a luxury fashion company.

But Chanel’s decision to hire Nair, with her long experience in human resources, underscores the company’s efforts to adapt to changing consumer and workplace attitudes towards sustainability and diversity, has said Amed.

Rivals like Kering, owner of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, have moved faster to establish “leadership positions” when it comes to both educating consumers about the industry’s environmental impact and the importance of inclusive hiring in their fight for talent, said Amed.

Nair “really focused on these kinds of topics during his time at Unilever,” Amed said. “I think this signals a really big challenge for Chanel as it seeks to modernize its corporate culture.”

His appointment is seen in his country as a sign of the rise of Indian business leaders. It’s also a big milestone for women, as very few of them run big luxury brands, Amed said.

In his social media posts, Nair, who is married to financial entrepreneur Kumar Nair and has two sons, described former India-born PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi as a friend and mentor. Nair herself recently received the Great British Businesswoman Role Model of the Year award.

But she’s not the first woman to be CEO of Chanel. Previously, Françoise Montenay and the American Maureen Chiquet occupied this role. And of course, the Maison de Chanel co-founder was a woman, the late Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.


AP Business Writers Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok and Kelvin Chan contributed from London.