Apple’s decision to hire fashion exec for “special projects” could boost its wearable computing efforts

Apple(s AAPL) has reportedly hired a former fashion executive from Yves Saint Laurent to be the head of “special projects.” The report comes by way of Bloomberg, which says Paul Deneve will report directly to CEO Tim Cook. Could he be the one that helps Apple figure out how to sell wearable devices to the masses?

Deneve was the President and CEO of Yves Saint Laurent and before that worked at other fashion houses, including Courreges, Nina Ricci and Lanvin. While his expertise may be in luxury fashion, he’s no stranger to Apple: he worked in sales and marketing for Apple Europe back in the ’90s for seven years.

What does “special projects” at Apple mean? Notably, he has not been hired to fill the SVP of Retail position that has been open since October when former Dixon’s exec John Browett was booted only months into his tenure. (In fact, that position has now been open longer than Browett was actually on the job.) Deneve’s sales and marketing background and understanding of the luxury goods industry would seem to indicate he’ll be doing something with positioning Apple’s products and brand. But it could also be related to a totally new product category Apple is expected to enter but that it has no experience with: wearable devices.

News of Apple registering for trademarks for iWatch in a half dozen countries is the latest clue that Apple is getting set to release some sort of smartwatch. Apple knows a thing or two about selling smartphones, tablets and computers, but a smartwatch? That’s more akin to a luxury fashion accessory than a consumer electronics device. At Courreges, Deneve was charged with selling really expensive sunglasses — perhaps Cook wants him to replicate that success with Apple watches.

This is the second high-profile executive in recent months that Apple has wooed away for a job that is technically a demotion: Deneve goes from CEO to reporting to the CEO, as Kevin Lynch went from Adobe’s(s ADBE) CTO to Apple’s VP of Technology.