Fashion Houses: The Turning Of The Departure & Arrival Boards

| Will The Fashion Designer Carousel Ever Slow Down? We’re starting to wonder if its a game of "Musical Jobs" instead of Musical Chairs going on in the industry.

Recently, it feels as if the revolving doors of luxury fashion houses have not stopped spinning. Creative directors are only lasting for a season or two, with the front pages of the fashion press proclaiming new ‘power moves’ every few weeks. But why has the turnover become so rapid, and why do some designers last for decades, while others hop from brand to brand for their whole careers?

From 2015 to 2018, there have been dozens of big industry moves, including:

  • Raf Simons leaves Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri replaces him
  • Italo Zucchelli and Francisco Costa leave Calvin Klein, Raf Simons replaces them
  • Hedi Slimane leaves Yves Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello replaces him
  • Pheobe Philo leaves Celine, Hedi Slimane replaces her
  • Peter Copping leaves Oscar de la Renta, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia replace him
  • Claire Waight Keller leaves Chloe, Natacha Ramsay-Levi replaces her
  • Riccardo Tisci leaves Givenchy, Claire Waight Keller replaces him
  • Christopher Bailey leaves Dior, Ricardo Tisci replces him
  • Kim Jones leaves Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh replaces him
  • Kris Van Assche leaves Dior Homme, Kim Jones replaces him
  • Haider Ackermann leaves Berluti, Kris Van Assche replaces him

The list goes on and on…but why? One motivation for this is the appeal for shareholder of ‘buzz’ designers that generate press and short-term sales as they create new trends based on the zeitgeist for emerging, exciting brands (like this year’s most talked about designers, Raf Simons, Virgil Abloh and Hedi Slimane), in contrast to ‘evergreen’ designers like Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘contract for life’ at Chanel or the Versace family line, who tend to make slower changes for heritage houses, and garner a loyal following over many decades.

Another reason for these quick and constant changes is the increasing speed on fashion, as many brands switch over to exhausting see-now-buy-now models and the luxury market races to keep pace with fast fashion. This pressure to work around the clock to deliver shorter and shorter lead times has caused many designers to burnout, raising the issue of poor mental health in the fashion industry.

A question that this feverish trend raises is whether the signature ‘look’ of a brand matter anymore, or if fans follow creative directors from house to house (eg. The cult of Phoebe Philo, and undeniably Alessandro Michele if he leaves Gucci too). It seems that specific designer aesthetics have become increasingly more important than brand heritage in the digital age.

This issue of what we’re calling the ‘creative director carousel’ has been reported on widely in the past few years…

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"Changing the guard at the creative helm of a fashion house is often necessary to transform stagnant brands and boost business results…But along with the promise of reward, making these kinds of changes at the creative helm of major brands comes with serious capital expenditure and significant risk, not least that the new partnership won’t endure long enough to deliver return on investment" – Business of Fashion

"Why does it seem like every fashion designer is such a job hopper lately?The pressure of churning out so many collections per year — from couture to resort to pre-fall and everything in between — can’t be discounted. It’s such a breakneck pace that some wonder if the fashion industry shouldn’t be doing more to protect designers’ mental health, and there’s no room for creativity with a schedule packed like that." – Racked

"Keeping up with fashion houses and their creative directors is fast turning into a soap opera. Who got divorced, married, into which family, and how? Miss a season and you’re out of the loop; watch a few episodes and you’re back in the game. Fashion’s protagonists have maxed out the storylines, divorcing and marrying houses in a session of musical chairs that gets more frenetic by the month. So how do fashion houses in constant transformation impact our wardrobes? And are the creative directors’ comings and goings overshadowing the brands?" – Elle

"For fashion conglomerates sensational appointments generate sensational revenues, whereas for designers there’s always cachet of working at a major brand with a number of significant perks. Fashion industry has turned into a prestige game with scandalously high profits at stake. And while it is quite fascinating to watch, the question persists: is there any creativity to it or just gossip?" – Sleek

So, where does the power lie? Although the media tends to put fashion designers at the helm of large brands on a high pedestal, and fashion week conversations are dominated by the industry’s game of musical chairs, it is clear that company shareholders and large conglomerate groups are playing a never-ending game of chess with these creative directors to keep the audience interested.

Designers are no longer allowed time to adjust & find their footing; one wrong move- eg. one season of slow growth- and they are out. In this highly pressurized environment, how can creativity in fashion truly thrive?

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