Apple hires Burberry CEO to head its retail operation

You don't get to hire someone like Angela Ahrendts at 'C' level (when she's already the CEO of one of the UK's most successful fashion companies) unless you have an exciting and cunning long-term plan which puts fashion right at the core of what you do.

Aesthetics and ergonomics have always been important parts of the Apple consumer proposition (even the Apple II in the early '80s was beautifully packaged and presented when the other 'microcomputers' of the period were brutal squares of tin and plastic) and all of Apple's products since the iMac have been self-consciously 'fashionable'.

Now, the appointment of Angela Ahrendts means, at the very least, that Apple is steering straight at 'wearable computing'. First watches then intelligent garments, and it will probably rely on its retail arm to spearhead the move.

Apple has announced that Ahrendts will lead the Apple retail and online stores expansion and will join in the first half of 2014. Her appointment appears to have been the result of a long period of negotiation and way-paving (in both organisations) since her post in Apple has been vacant for many months.

It's also notable that she's a woman. It may be unfair to single Apple out here since the upper layers in most technology companies are male-dominated, but top-level Apple is currently (and thinking back, although my memory could be playing tricks) always has been pretty much a testosterone-only zone. The current crop of seniors look so similar you'd be hard-pressed to pick out CEO Cook if the faces on the Apple site weren't name-tagged.

So Apple will likely be a culture-shock for Ahrendts who has spent her life in mixed company in the fashion industry. She was an early star, becoming president of Donna Karan International in 1989 when just 29 and eventually joining Burberry as CEO in 2006 where she continued to oversee the stiffening up of Burberry's exclusivity which had been in danger by the mid-noughties of becoming too popular with the "wrong sort of people" ('chavs' is the snobby term used in the UK - almost equivalent, I suppose, to the US 'trailer trash').

Her task with Apple may be similar - how to help Apple walk its brand down the fine line between exclusivity and booming sales.

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