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 companies.
Nair spent 30 years with Unilever, most recently as the company’s chief of human resources and a member of the executive committee. The 52-year-old succeeds Maureen Chiquet, a US entrepreneur with a fashion background who served as CEO of Chanel for nine years until early 2016.
A British national, born in India, Nair is a rare outsider at the helm of the tightly controlled family fashion house, known for its tweed suits, quilted handbags and No. 5 perfume. Chanel was founded in 1910 by fashion legend Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel as a hat boutique on rue Cambon in Paris and grew to become a byword for French chic.
Nair, in a post on Instagram, said she is “humbled and honoured to be appointed the Global Chief Executive Officer of Chanel, an iconic and admired company”. “I am so inspired by what Chanel stands for,” she said. “It is a company that believes in the freedom of creation, in cultivating human potential and in acting to have a positive impact in the world.”⠀
“I am grateful for my long career at Unilever, a place that has been my home for 30 years. It has given me so many opportunities to learn, grow and contribute to a truly purpose-driven organisation. I will always be a proud advocate of Unilever and its ambition to make sustainable living commonplace.”
French billionaire Alain Wertheimer, a 73-year-old who owns Chanel with his brother Gerard Wertheimer and had originally taken on the CEO job on a temporary basis, will move to the role of global executive chairman.
The group said Nair, who at Unilever oversaw 150,000 people, would join at the end of January and be based in London. It added that the new appointments would ensure its “long-term success as a private company.”
The recruitment of Nair, who rose through the ranks of Unilever having started out as a trainee on the factory floor, comes as the fashion industry is under pressure to show a more inclusive approach.
Under her watch Unilever achieved gender parity across global management, according to a Harper’s Bazaar profile published last month, which also highlighted her commitment to pay the living wage across the supply chain.
Nair serves as a non-executive board member at BT and has previously served as non-executive director of the British government’s business, energy and industrial strategy department.