Photo courtesy of Zimbio.com
In the last few weeks, the world of fashion has had a lot to talk about with the exodus of three designers from some of the most prestigious brands in the world. Yesterday, not even a week since Raf Simons shocked us with his departure from a stellar tenure at Dior, Alber Elbaz left Lanvin, the oldest surviving French fashion house, where he has been for fourteen years. This comes mere weeks after the house of Balenciaga waved goodbye to the seething talent of Alexander Wang.
As I’ve read fashion reporters around the globe commenting on the departure of these three brilliant designers, none has swung more wildly past the point than Elizabeth Paton’s October 29th article in the New York Times, “Why Fashion Designers Are Slip-Sliding Away.”
I quote: “The problem is, if we divorce emotion from the creative process, if designers don’t care as much about their brand, and brands are not as wed to their designers as they were when the same name shaped a sartorial identity over decades, then the risk is that consumers will feel the same way. It’s the part of this equation that doesn’t add up.”
Well, as my math teacher used to say when I got the wrong answer, show me your work.
The exodus does not stem from designers not caring enough; it’s from designers caring too much. Because they’re artists…who, as it turns out, have emotion to spare.
The article references an anonymous retailer who asks “Why do people covet Chanel or Comme des Garçons? (because) the brands send a consistent message about what they are and what they stand for.”
Could it be that Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel—who, by the by, left Balmain early in his career after 3 years to go to Jean Patou, along with many other changes—has virtual armies working for him carrying forward the amazing legacy he was given of Coco Chanel’s iconic and sturdy brand? In his current role, Karl oversees. He follows the song sheet that master artists played off centuries ago, guiding apprentices with a clear and coherent vision as they did the work. THAT is why people covet Chanel, because it has that vision being guided forward by Lagerfeld’s talent and oversight—a vision begun by Chanel in Paris back when designers were immersed in the creative process, as all artists should work.
And Comme des Garçons? Really? The founding designer of the brand, Rei Kawakubo, is regularly referred to as a recluse—that is how seriously she takes her space to create her art, rarely talking to the media. She has said the work should speak for itself. Talk about standing for something.
So, no. The brands of Chanel and Comme des Garçons don’t “send a consistent message.” The artists behind those brands send that message. And those that are doing it have created an approach that allows them to keep it that way: whether it’s Lagerfeld’s master artist approach, allowing him to churn his amazing engine at Chanel and little sidelines like Fendi and his photography, or Kawakubo’s opposite practice of protecting her process. Both make the same point, in different ways: artists need time to create.
What is happening in fashion’s creative leadership is not destruction; it’s a correction. And every correction needs the disruption that brings it on. Fashion houses and conglomerates like LVMH and Kering are being given the opportunity to figure out how to structure and organize so that their artists can create, and bring those brands the kind of profits that will allow their continuance—in turn, bringing up the next generation and the next.
LVMH is trying to do that now with young designers, under the leadership of Daphne Arnault. But that will all be for nothing if the businesses these apprentices enter do not understand and build their structures about a fact too many have chosen to ignore: they are in the arts.