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UPDATE 1-'With heavy heart', fashion designer Paul Andrew leaves Ferragamo

(Adds Ferragamo statement, details)

MILAN, April 8 (Reuters) - British designer Paul Andrew said on Thursday he would leave Italian luxury brand Salvatore Ferragamo in May, a high-profile departure that comes at a time when the group is seeking to recover from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After five years, with pride and a heavy heart, I have decided it’s time for a new challenge,” Andrew said in a post on Instagram, following months of speculation about his possible departure from the brand, famous for shoes worn by Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn.

Shortly after the post was published, a statement from Ferragamo confirmed Andrew would step down, adding that from next month the 30-strong in-house design team would be in charge of creating the group’s new collections, starting with September’s fashion shows.

The brand plans to hire a new creative director, but does not want to rush a new appointment given the challenging market conditions, a source close to the company told Reuters.

Ferragamo’s sales has been hit harder by the pandemic harder than many rivals, partly because of its heavy focus on airport spending.

Paul Andrew joined Ferragamo in 2016 to design shoes for its womenswear division, while he was living in New York and running his own shoe brand. He became creative director for the whole group in 2019.

Two sources familiar with the matter said that relations between Andrew and the Ferragamo family, which controls the group, became increasingly strained in recent months.

The group dampened speculation of an imminent management shake-up last month when it confirmed Chief Executive Micaela le Divelec in her role. However, sources have said that it was not clear whether she would stay on for the full three-year mandate of the new board, due to be appointed by shareholders on April 22. “A new direction is a must, not a choice, for what remains one of the most famous luxury brands globally that has been plagued with significant underperformance in recent years,” said Jefferies analyst Flavio Cereda. (Reporting by Claudia Cristoferi; Editing by Pravin Char)

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