When the Mu­sic Stops

Cre­ative di­rec­tors and fash­ion houses are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly em­broiled in a per­ilous game of mu­si­cal chairs. Melissa Twigg in­ves­ti­gates why stints at the top are so short-lived and how this is af­fect­ing the in­dus­try

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Cre­ative di­rec­tors and fash­ion houses are em­broiled in a per­ilous game of mu­si­cal chairs. We look at why, and how it’s af­fect­ing the in­dus­try

Keep­ing up with the de­sign­ers at the helm of ma­jor fash­ion houses is like fol­low­ing a Net­flix se­ries full of cliffhang­ers. Who got di­vorced? Who had an af­fair? Who’s swap­ping wives? Miss a few episodes and you’re out of the loop.

That’s be­cause the fash­ion in­dus­try has found some­thing new to coo over: the game of mu­si­cal chairs. When Raf Si­mons left Dior in 2015, the in­dus­try col­lec­tively gasped— and at least one Vogue jour­nal­ist went on record say­ing that she felt dis­tinctly un­well. But over the in­ter­ven­ing three years we have be­come numb to the rapid turnover of cre­ative di­rec­tors, with many who oc­cupy the top jobs swap­ping roles on an al­most monthly ba­sis.

To re­cap the moves this year alone, Kim Jones left Louis Vuit­ton, Phoebe Philo ex­ited Cé­line, David Koma bade farewell to Mu­gler, Jonathan Saun­ders de­parted Diane von Fursten­berg and Ni­cola Formichetti stepped down from Diesel. Long-time chief cre­ative of­fi­cer Christo­pher Bai­ley left Burberry and To­mas Maier said good­bye to Bot­tega Veneta. Bai­ley and Maier in par­tic­u­lar played such pro­found roles in shap­ing the aes­thet­ics of their for­mer brands that their de­par­tures should have rocked the in­dus­try to the core—but they didn’t. Cre­ative di­rec­tors, it seems, can be as fleet­ing as In­sta­gram sto­ries.

It goes with­out say­ing that the founders of le­gacy la­bels are al­most myth­i­cal crea­tures— Coco Chanel rein­vented women’s wardrobes and was hailed as fash­ion’s first fem­i­nist; Mi­uc­cia Prada trans­formed the fam­ily busi­ness af­ter a stint as a col­lege so­cial­ist; and Chris­tian Dior’s New Look marked the be­gin­ning of the post-war era. Their sto­ries shaped the en­tire ethos of their brands, but can mod­ern cre­ative di­rec­tors ever have such a ma­jor im­pact?

In the era of In­sta­gram, cre­ative di­rec­tors are ar­guably more vis­i­ble than ever. Olivier Rouste­ing, Jonathan An­der­son, An­thony Vac­carello and Clare Waight Keller all have ma­jor fol­low­ings on so­cial me­dia that give them a dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­ity sep­a­rate from their col­lec­tions.

Fash­ion houses no longer ap­point a di­rec­tor just to churn out col­lec­tions, but to be the vis­i­ble face of the brand. And in cer­tain cases, they can give a facelift to a flag­ging la­bel, the great­est re­cent suc­cess story in this depart­ment be­ing Alessan­dro Michele. When he re­placed Frida Gian­nini at Gucci in 2015, he be­came a fash­ion celebrity overnight and in­jected a se­ri­ous dose of cool into the sto­ried but flag­ging bil­lion-dol­lar Ital­ian lux­ury brand. What’s most sur­pris­ing is that he had been qui­etly work­ing at the brand since 2002.

“Michele is one of few ex­am­ples of an un­known name turn­ing a brand into the most de­sir­able in the world,” says Lon­don-based fash­ion com­men­ta­tor Kim Ing. A year af­ter Michele took the helm, Gucci sales had jumped by 13 per cent and the brand was dom­i­nat­ing mag­a­zine cov­ers, red car­pet ap­pear­ances and ed­i­to­rial cov­er­age. Gucci proved that the game of mu­si­cal chairs in its most pos­i­tive in­car­na­tion gives brands the chance to up­date their aes­thetic and young de­sign­ers the op­por­tu­nity to create their own vi­sion with far greater ease.

But, equally, there are the cre­ative di­rec­tors who shape a brand so beau­ti­fully that they be­come all but ir­re­place­able. When Phoebe Philo took over as head de­signer at Cé­line in 2007, thou­sands of women in the fash­ion in­dus­try, known as Philophiles, re­nounced other shops and devoted them­selves with an al­most monas­tic ob­ses­sion to the French la­bel—and, more specif­i­cally, to Philo’s min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic.

When Philo de­cided to leave last year af­ter a decade at the helm, her fans were bereft. LVMH put out a griev­ing press re­lease stat­ing that it would not im­me­di­ately ap­point a new cre­ative di­rec­tor, and that the col­lec­tions would be de­signed in-house “in keep­ing with the crafts­man­ship the house is renowned for.”

Then news broke early this year that Hedi Sli­mane, the man be­hind the Kate Moss­favoured rock ’n’ roll look at Saint Lau­rent, was tak­ing over, and the en­tire fash­ion in­dus­try is now wait­ing with bated breath to see whether his col­lec­tion will be a ma­jor de­par­ture from


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