Why is Apple hiring fashion giant Yves Saint Laurent's CEO?

For some "special projects," says Cupertino. Um, okay....

An Apple-1 computer, built in 1976. If this isn't high-fashion, what is?
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Apple CEO Tim Cook may not be as secrecy-obsessed as his famous predecessor, Steve Jobs, but he sure has people guessing with his newest hire, Yves Saint Laurent chief executive Paul Deneve. What would a tech company want with the CEO of a storied French fashion house?

Here's Apple's less-than-helpful explanation: Deneve will be "working on special projects as a vice president reporting directly to Tim Cook."

It's not as odd a hire as it may seem on its surface. Yes, Deneve has worked managing a string of luxury fashion brands since 1997, but he is also an Apple alumnus: From 1990 to 1997 he held a series of marketing and sales jobs in Apple's European operations. "Marketing luxury goods, after all, is what taking the helm of Yves Saint Laurent is all about," says Mike Isaac at All Things D, and it's really "not a far cry to go back to marketing Apple products, the high-design luxury goods of the tech world."

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Bloomberg's Adam Satariano is a little more blunt, noting that "the jobs in high fashion give Deneve experience selling products at a premium price." But he quashes the idea, floated first by Apple Insider's Daniel Eran Dilger, that the YSL chief was hired to lead Apple's retail operations, a position that has stubbornly remained vacant since Cook fired John Browett in October 2012.

Dilger also suggests a more intangible motive for hiring Deneve: "Recruiting an established member of the fashion and luxury goods sector could be a move to propel Apple's brand internationally," building on the iPhone's global cachet. Jason D. O'Grady at ZDNet has a more concrete "special project" in mind: "My money's on the iWatch."

YSL designed plenty of watches in its day, but maybe Tim Cook's hoping that there's a certain je ne sais quoi that Deneve could bring to something as pedestrian as a watch. [ZDNet]

Let's expand Deneve's role to all wearable computing, and this hire "is brilliant," says Jeff Weisbein at BestTechie. The iWatch is the product widely rumored to drop next, but "maybe there are other wearable devices in the pipeline or maybe Deneve has some ideas of his own." His main contribution should be figuring out: "How do you make the smartwatch or any wearable device appeal to all types of people?" Weisbein adds.

Fashion items are typically very personal purchases, everyone likes different things and has different tastes in clothes and jewelry.... And then you have to factor in the whole gender thing, men and women have different expectations for their fashion items, just look at how different traditional women’s clothes, watches, and glasses are from their male counterparts.

This could be a real headache to a bunch of geeks creating the latest and greatest tech gadget. Or maybe it won't be with a fashion expert onboard. Which is exactly where I'm guessing Mr. Deneve will be able to offer some excellent advice. [BestTechie]

Casey Chan at Gizmodo just throws up his hands. Deneve may have been hired to boost wearable fashion or to "outfit Jony Ive with tighter fitting T-shirts or something we have no idea what," Chan says. "Probably something we have no idea what." This is still Apple we're talking about, after all.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.