This year, the fashion world has been turned upside down by the unforeseen exits of designer after designer. Is this a new fall trend?
From Donna Karan stepping down at DKNY—now being handled by Public School's Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne—to Alber Elbaz’s abrupt departure from Lanvin and Raf Simons' resignation from Dior, these events have been incredibly shocking to fashion fans. What's more is that we haven't been given very many real answers as to why these Creative Directors have departed.
At many houses, we are used to having the same designers lead brands for long periods of time—Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and Miuccia Prada at Prada, to name a few. Therefore, what really characterizes these designer exits is their suddenness.
I think that our industry is facing an uphill battle with commercialization. Great fashion artists have abandoned their labels, or are forced to do so, because of the ever-increasing pressure they are put under nowadays; they have to be creative and innovative for anywhere between four to nine collections per year.
Moreover, the artistic side of fashion has been questioned over the past couple of years because earnings are what matter the most to fashion businesses. Art and expression, the pillars of what make a design interesting or worthwhile, have been seconded to the economic aspects.
In my opinion, social media has played a crucial part in the growth of this financial mindset; brands get more attention and recognition from the public, therefore, demand increases. What starts as small changes are what designers might feel challenged by, especially when social media followers expect to see something new and lustworthy from brands on a regular basis.
Another part of this issue is that for some fashion designers, the corporate structure between their brand's parent company and their sovereign management can be unsympathetic to creative liberty. In a recent editorial, The Fashion Law wrote: “While most big houses have a rather rigid totem pole in terms of organizational control (particularly those owned by large luxury conglomerates), some are becoming more willing to give some up to the creative force at the house’s helm.” Accordingly, designers can be freer to extend their vision throughout the brand, to which TFL gives examples such as Miuccia Prada and Christopher Bailey, who have are both Creative Directors and CEO's; they manage to balance the roles of being creative and business-like, and harmonize these departments in doing so. However, fashion parent companies like LVMH, owner of DKNY and Christian Dior, have been criticized for prioritizing money over creativity and strangling a Creative Director's powers within their company.
To connect the dots between commercialization and the pressure this adds to designers, designers might simply be tired of being micromanaged and not being able to focus on the aspects of the job that they find most meaningful. Like Alber Elbaz said when he accepted the Fashion Group International Award last month, "I think everybody in fashion these days needs just a little more time." Similarly, Raf Simons' last few interviews whilst helming Dior express his frustration with the time constraints on producing six collections in under a year.
Earlier this year, Alexander Wang also left his post at Balenciaga. Kering, a French luxury goods conglomerate that owns Balenciaga, stated that Wang was leaving by “joint decision.” Even so, Thomas Chauvet, an analyst covering luxury goods at Citi Investment Research, said that the growth at Balenciaga was slower than some smaller brands, which surely influenced Kering’s decision. When Alber Elbaz stated that he was leaving Lanvin, it was “on the decision of the company’s majority shareholder.” According to Lanvin, the company's sales and profits had been in constant decline over the past three years.
The latter may be evidence to show that the fashion industry is focusing mostly on sales, however that isn't to say that a designer's ability to create relevant, interesting products won't be reflected by the brand's resulting profits. Even when this is the case - such as with Raf Simons at Dior - today’s demand and growth is simply overwhelming; so overwhelming that it is causing designers to part ways from the brands they once dreamed of working for.