Chief of Ralph Lauren is ousted amid split between old and new

NEW YORK (NYTimes)- When Mr Stefan Larsson joined Ralph Lauren as its chief executive less than two years ago to work beside the fashion house's founder, he had big ideas for transforming the stagnant brand's offerings into must-have clothing for the 21st century.

But as it turned out, all of his ideas did not work for Lauren.

Citing creative differences between them, the company said on Thursday that Mr Larsson would leave on May 1, an abrupt shake-up for one of the country's most recognisable brands.

"Stefan and I share a love and respect for the DNA of this great brand and we both recognise the need to evolve," Lauren said in a statement.

"However, we have found that we have different views on how to evolve the creative and consumer- facing parts of this business."

The shake-up adds uncertainty about the future of Ralph Lauren. Like many other brands that helped put American fashion on the global map, it has recently struggled to reinvent itself.

That struggle has been exacerbated by global slowdowns in high-end fashion, resulting from currency fluctuations and consumer unease, that have increased pressure to upset the status quo.

A result has been a rash of executive moves in the industry on the creative and corporate sides.

Just on Thursday, Riccardo Tisci, creative director of the French label Givenchy, announced he was leaving after 12 years, and Barneys New York, the luxury fashion retailer, named Daniella Vitale as its new chief executive.

"I have never seen so much movement and disruption," said Mr Robert Burke, a luxury consultant who was an executive at Ralph Lauren in the 1990s.

But the move at Ralph Lauren also points to a truism of the industry: that it is often difficult for fashion founders to cede control of their businesses.

Diane von Furstenberg, for example, went through a string of design heirs and recently agreed to part ways with a chief executive. Carolina Herrera also parted ways with her chief executive this year after disagreements over the direction of the company.

After decades leading the company, Lauren left the chief executive job when Mr Larsson joined the business at the end of 2015.

The new chief reported to Lauren, who characterised the relationship as a "partnership" at the time.

Still, Mr Larsson, 42, was brought in to shake things up. Well-styled and soft-spoken, he had been widely credited with rehabilitating Old Navy's dowdy image and expanding H&M's cheap chic offerings.

His appointment at Ralph Lauren signalled that Lauren, 77, was loosening his grip on the company.

Long resistant to appointing someone else as a chief executive, Lauren's decision to appoint Mr Larsson was considered an acknowledgment that the brand needed a makeover.

Lauren, who started his career as a designer of oversized neckties, helped define American fashion for much of the late 20th century.

But his brand has also mined a stable of core items like polo shirts, Gatsby gowns and Western denim for years.

Some of those items have struggled to remain relevant as fast- fashion, e-commerce and an emerging generation of new designers have transformed where and how people shop.

In June, Mr Larsson unveiled the company's "Way Forward Plan", pledging to focus on the creative and practical sides of the business.

Drawing from the fast-fashion model, the company needed more surprising designs and a quicker way to get them to shoppers.

The path, however, has been bumpy and his departure is the latest example.

But the push-and-pull between the past and future was perhaps most visible on Inauguration Day for President Donald Trump, when Mrs Melania Trump wore a Ralph Lauren powder-blue cashmere outfit that looked like a first lady costume of yore - a Jacqueline Kennedy outfit for a Camelot- themed party.

It was appropriate. It was safe. It had worked before.

"There are few people you'll find that are more modern-thinking and more open to change than Ralph," Mr Burke said.

"I think he recognises there need to be changes."

During a call with analysts on Thursday, Mr Larsson said he and Lauren had worked "very hard to find common ground" over the last few months. Lauren did not participate in the call. Through a spokesman, both men declined to be interviewed.

The company said Jane H. Nielsen, the chief financial officer, would lead operations during the search for a new chief.