A creative directorship at a heritage-steeped house used to be the holy grail of fashion, with young designers gunning for top positions at brands owned by conglomerates such as LVMH, Kering and Richemont.
Scoring one meant an instant stamp of approval from the establishment and provided a shortcut to stardom and huge paydays.
In the past decade, though, as fashion and media changed beyond recognition, cracks started showing in the system.
Both Galliano and McQueen experienced falls as dramatic as their ascensions. Galliano’s successor at Dior, Raf Simons, burnt out from the intensity and was later unceremoniously ousted from his next job at Calvin Klein.
Alber Elbaz suffered the same fate at Lanvin, despite turning the fortunes of the French brand around. Ghesquiere left Balenciaga embroiled in an ugly spat while the stint of his successor, Alexander Wang, was marked by lacklustre showings and an abrupt exit.
Perhaps burnt out by the increasingly sped-up and corporatised fashion world, a whole host of star designers have left high-profile positions in recent years and have so far opted out of rejoining the industry.
The most notable absence of Phoebe Philo, who left Celine after transforming the once-forgotten brand into a moneymaker and critical darling for French luxury conglomerate LVMH, had Philophiles clamouring for an eponymous label. But the famously reclusive designer has so far remained mum.
Others have pivoted to charity work: Frida Giannini, ousted from Gucci in 2014, now sits on the board of Save The Children.
Bouchra Jarrar, who left Lanvin after only 16 months, is working with the Musee des Art Decoratifs to create programmes that benefit disadvantaged young women.
Some have explored different branches of design. Jonathan Saunders, who led Diane von Furstenberg for 18 months, is now designing furniture; while Alessandra Facchinetti, who was last at Tod’s, most recently designed costumes for the Don Carlo opera at Switzerland’s Theater St Gallen.
While the industry waits with bated breath to see how Elbaz’s joint venture with luxury group Richemont would take shape, a small group of designers are rethinking the way they want to play the fashion game.
Having clocked in time at the most hallowed houses in Paris and Milan, from Schiaparelli to Saint Laurent to Sonia Rykiel, they realise the old way of doing things is no longer feasible in a rapidly changing landscape.
These visionary minds are finding new paths forward by promoting thoughtful consumption and smaller-scale productions, rejecting excessive consumerism, instant gratification and throwaway culture.
This article first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.
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