The fashion world was recently taken aback when Bernard Arnault – chairman and CEO of LVMH – and Sidney Toledano – Diorβs chief executive – revealed that after three and a half years as Creative Director at Christian Dior, Raf Simons will not be renewing his contract.
This came as shocking and unexpected as since his arrival in Dior, Simons has been appraised for re-establishing the house’s codes, refreshing its position within the luxury fashion spectrum and hyping the brand’s overall prosperity by generating renewed interest toward it.
Simons managed to take some of Maison Dior’s staples such as the bar jacket, the full skirt and the flowers and inject them with his own signature and youthful energy. Moreover, he did so without attracting any unwanted drama, unlike his predecessor John Galliano.
The numbers speak for themselves: under Simons’ new direction, Dior’s sales climbed up by 60% since 2011. In a short, during his brief but eventful period chez Dior, Simons seemed to be an absolutely perfect match for the brand, a long lasting promise.
That’s why the news of the designer’s decision not to renew his contract for ‘personal reasons’ β as the Maison has officially stated β came as a shocking news for everyone who was eager to see much more of his Dior.
In a similar fashion, Alexander Wang has recently attributed his decision to leave Balenciaga β after no longer than two years as Creative Director β to personal reasons.
That reveals what seems to be a major shift among designers leading some of the world’s biggest fashion houses: choosing a dignified exit and leaving at the peak of their creativity. But once reached a height such as one of the most respected, wanted, better paid jobs in the industry and brilliantly succeeding at it, why leaving?
The position of a Creative Director in a brand such as Dior, while coveted and generously compensated, is among the most demanding positions a designer can hold. On one hand, designers get to be a part of fashion’s history, but on the other their personal lives become subsidiary to their careers in a way that many simply cannot tolerate.
But not all designersβ personal lives struggle. As mentioned by Vogue’s International Editor Suzy Menkes in her article Fashion is Crashing, some adapt protection mechanisms: Phoebe Philo refusing to move from her native England to Paris β for example – or Heidi Slimane shifting one of the most iconic French brands all the way to LA.
This whole pressure and everything else that comes with the position of Creative Director of a renewed fashion house today β social media and social presence among them β means the fashion musical chairs are turning much faster now. But despite their talent, if designers are not careful, they could find themselves left without a seat for reasons that vary from brakedown β see Galliano’s case β to proper tragedy β causing Alexander McQueen’s final exit from the fashion scene, for example.
It’s when designers choose to exit, without any scandal nor tragedy, we shall ask: what next?
Simons is likely focus on his namesake label, going back to menswear where he started his career.
The question of his successor is still gossip material. The hottest contender for the position has been said to be Ricardo Tisci, current Creative Director at Givenchy.
It would be interesting to see how Tisci would blend his aesthetic into Dior, although he seems to have a much more aggressive visual point of view than the soft chicness of Simmons’ Dior. Aside of creating a totally new identity for the brand, Tisci’s departure from Givenchy would generate another empty seat in fashion Olympus, and so the cycle continues.
Fashion’s merry-go-round spins even faster as designers are now delivering multiple collections in order to keep up with the customers’ demand. In Simons’ case, this meant six collections a year for Dior β a minimum of two ready-to-wear, two haute couture, one cruise and one resort collection – excluding his eponymous collections and collaborations with external brands, such as Adidas and Fred Perry.
Here is the interesting conundrum: we tend to judge the designers for their innovatory approach and creativity only, and we harshly demand more and more, but we don’t often consider how this excessive expectation might affect their talent. The world sees designers as endless sources of bottomless ideas, constantly inspired and restless, able to shell out hundreds of designs every year without batting an eyelid.
But as Menkes agrees, ‘designers β by their nature sensitive, emotional and artistic people β are being asked to take on so much. Too much.’
Still, fashion is a serious business, measured on its sales and profits and the major corporations which own some of the most established brands will always manage to find someone young, energetic and β sometimes β naturally keen on incrementing the brand’s mediatic presence at the same time, such as Olivier Rousteing, currently Creative Director of Balmain.
The recent swaps within the fashion scenario suggests that we are up for a serious overall change that will see designers moving their position faster than ever. What gets lost in the process is the true identity of the brands, which used to be identified in the figure of their designer. But as the whole identification process is anything but immediate, this fast carousel of Creative Directors certainly doesn’t allow the audience’s identification of a brand with its designer to be completed, compromising the perception of the brand itself as constantly changing.
Designers who are tasked to lead such iconic brands should want to honor the legacy of those icons and set the ground for future development. It certainly is a challenge and not everyone has succeeded at it in the past, but what’s stopping today’s fashion talents from even trying?
Most of all: what does this tell about the future of fashion’s super brands?
Words by Oliver Korinek