Given creative vacancies in the men’s divisions of megabrands Gucci and Louis Vuitton, 2023 could be another high-level game of musical chairs, and designer tenure at historic European maisons. The average period is even shorter.
According to WWD’s analysis of designer appointments, half of the creative directors at some 40 Maisons have been in the position for less than five years.
Fashion seems to be heading towards a ‘biennale model’, suggests one of Paris’ leading academics. In this model, designers move in and out of brands for short-term ‘interventions’ rather than deep exploration or deep change.
“Fashion almost has this fashionable shift compared to other product-based industries such as cars and furniture,” says Marco Pecorari, assistant professor and program director of the Master of Fine Arts in Fashion Studies at Parsons Paris. says. “When you change the artistic director, you almost always change the whole team.
“It’s as if design ideas are interchangeable or should be exchanged in this cyclical way.”
According to WWD’s list, Hermès Men’s Artistic Director Veronique Nichanian holds the record for the longest tenure at 35 years, followed by Ian Griffiths, who has been Max Mara’s creative director for the past 18 years.
WWD calculated tenure based on the year the designer was introduced at each Maison. The first collection usually follows several months later. This list does not include designers from homonymous Maisons such as Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Miuccia Prada, and Albert Klimler of Akris, and is primarily based on ready-to-wear rather than other categories.
Including Fine Jewelery, Victoire de Castellane, Artistic Director of Dior Jewellery, ranks second after 25 years.
Only seven other designers passed the decade mark. Alexander his McQueen Sarah Burton, Balmain Olivier Staing, Loewe Jonathan Anderson, Louis Vuitton Nicolas Ghesquière, Coach Stuart Vevers, Moschino Jeremy Scott, Paco his Rabanne Julian Dossena.
Benjamin Simnauer, professor and director of research at the Institut français de la Mode in Paris, said profit is the main factor that influences a designer’s tenure.
“After the initial contract, if the goals are not met and above all there is no significant growth, the creative team is usually replaced,” he said in an interview. As long as you’re technically successful, your artistic decisions are never really questioned.”
But he suggests that big brands are more focused on long-term collaborations than ever before.
In his view, the key to commercial success seems to be “90% repetition and 10% variation” of the collection, as clients want to build a coherent wardrobe.
“Most people prefer a tweaked revival of the same product rather than a radical novelty. To achieve such consistency, it is preferable to keep the same artistic director. ‘ he argued, noting that this tends to be especially true of the more ‘classic’ house.
“Some key players have kept the same creative director for a long time, like Hermès, or the same creative direction, like Chanel, and Virginie Viard has taken over Karl Lagerfeld’s work in a similar spirit. I will,” he said.
Floriane de Saint Pierre, founder and principal of Parisian executive search and consulting firm Floriane de Saint Pierre & Associés, said most of the billion-dollar heritage brands in Europe and the United States have had the same creative director for more than seven years. I also emphasized that These include Hermès, Louis Vuitton womenswear, Loewe, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Valentino, Coach, and Gucci, who split with Alessandro Michele until last November.
(Pierpaolo Piccioli became Valentino’s sole creative director in 2016 when Maria Grazia Chiuri, co-creative director since 2008, joined Dior.)
In de Saint-Pierre’s view, the tenure of the creative director is “closely intertwined” with the tenure of the chief executive.
“A CEO change almost always means a change in brand strategy, so the creative helm changes,” she said. “Other reasons for changes in creative direction are related to underperforming brands or creative directors joining another brand, but they are less common these days.”
Mary Gallagher, associate at FIND Consulting, a boutique recruitment agency based in Paris, said creative director contracts “have tended to be shorter these days. They’re renewable for about three years, not 10.” ” he pointed out.
In her view, “When a creative director has been with the company for less than three years, it sends a signal that the brand has made a mistake. I found that sales continued to grow even after I left when I took over. Many executives understood that if a brand was strong enough, it could withstand creative director changes and cycles. ”
Referring to the WWD list, Simnauer noted that there will be fewer appointments in 2021 than in 2020, for example.
“In theory, there is no tenure difference between a creative director and a brand founder,” argued De Saint Pierre.
“Both cases define the brand’s purpose, expression and activation,” she explained. “Product design is one of the key steps in the global process of creating purpose and empathy.
According to Pecorari, when European fashion conglomerates (LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Prada Group, Gucci Group (now known as Kering)) formed in the 2000s, the dynamics surrounding creative directors changed, and designers It has become “more deeply intertwined with the economic mechanisms” behind this. business configuration. “As soon as the numbers start to stagnate a bit, we try to change.”
He also highlighted the drastic change since 2010, which he said reflects that fashion is “a popularized type of phenomenon, as well as a cultural phenomenon.”
In Pecorari’s view, designer appointments have become part of the fashion ‘spectacle’, attracting interest and attention, but not deeply embracing the brand’s DNA.
“With more and more rapid interpretations of this kind, innovation is also becoming more difficult,” he said. “From a designer’s perspective, five years or 10 years is a completely different way to instill a brand’s heritage.”
He described a “mania for the new” that has permeated most aspects of fashion, and now also the creative side. “Everyone gets consumed quickly.”
Observers cite the benefits of longer creative tenure, especially in the development of accessories and perfumes.
“It is well known that ready-to-wear lines alone are generally not enough for fashion brands to grow significantly. It takes time to reflect on all these product categories’ aesthetics for all product categories. You can’t do it with a tenure of six months. ”
De Saint Pierre said most of the megabrands that have their roots in accessories, such as Hermès and Vuitton, “have always had multiple creative leaders and brands with a fashion/couture base — Chanel, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Valentino. And so on — has always had multiple creative leaders, and with the exception of Dior, has been one of the creative leaders in each category since the 1980s.”
Observers point out that long creative tenure can have downsides, especially now that fashion runs at the accelerating pace of social media.
“Fashion is about gaining momentum. After 15 years, this is a serious challenge,” says Simmenauer.
On the other hand, according to Simnauer, short tenures can “disrupt a brand’s identity, especially if there is no strong continuity between creative directors.” This could be a problem for brands like Givenchy and Kenzo, who have seemed to hesitate between tradition and streetwear approaches over the past decade. ”
According to Pecorari of Parsons, fashion education has moved from an individualism with the ultimate goal of becoming a creative director at a couture maison, to “collaborative work…we push the idea of skill diversity.” migrating.
In his view, the industry’s revolving door is “more critically viewed” than it was 10 or 15 years ago. “sometimes [students] I am not interested in such traditional fashion systems and would like to experiment with independent designs and more artistic approaches.
He praised Prada’s approach to designer transformation, and Miuccia Prada hired Raf Simons as co-creative director in 2020, ultimately laying the groundwork for him to take over.
“It seems smart and sustainable in terms of human resources,” he said.
Simmenauer said, “We also pointed to other new creative constructs, such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and the rotation of creative direction at the AZ Factory, but it doesn’t work for every brand.”
Gallagher anticipates more guest designer gigs, collaborations and mashups. Think, for example, Gucci x Balenciaga, Balenciaga x Adidas, Fendace, Fendi and his Versace seasonal swaps.