Why do fashion houses keep swapping designers?
We even struggle to keep up.
Fashion isn’t necessarily the most consistent industry, in fact, it thrives on change in order to meet market margins; fashion houses cling onto anything they deem ‘fresh’.
Since 2015, when Raf Simons left Dior for Calvin Klein and was replaced by Maria Grazia Chiuri from Valentino in 2016, it has felt like every head designer at the crème de la crème fashion Maison's have left their positions. It has been a confusing chop and change news cycle since, news sites spreading gossip about which designer is rumored to leave and who is replacing them.
In 2017, Clare Waight Keller took the reins at Givenchy after Riccardo Tisci’s departure; in turn, Tisci is set to replace Christopher Bailey at Burberry, after he announced his separation from the brand this year.
At Céline, Phoebe Philo officially left in 2018 and has been replaced by Hedi Slimane, and he had left Saint Laurent in 2016, merely four years after he replaced Anthony Vaccarello.
In men’s fashion, in 2018 Virgil Abloh replaced Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton, and in turn, Jones took over at Dior Homme.
It is clearly very confusing, you can almost picture these distinguished designers at a kid’s party playing musical chairs, but instead of winning sour straps they win a position as head designer of a famous fashion label.
Of course, the situation isn’t black and white, making it impossible to pinpoint a specific reason why this keeps happening, but for Raf Simons and Alexander Wang, it may be because of the irrefutably insane fashion schedule.
Simons expressed his concerns in a Business of Fashion interview in 2015, about how fast fashion makes it impossible to grow fully fleshed ideas.
“When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process. Technically, yes — the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important. When you try an idea, you look at it and think, Hmm, let’s put it away for a week and think about it later. But that’s never possible when you have only one team working on all the collections.”
Conversely, Alexander Wang left Balenciaga in 2015 after three years to focus on his namesake label. However, since then he has rejected the usual fashion schedule to display his shows during his own calendar. This move proves he may have felt similar sentiments to Raf, and the demands of working for such an established brand, that requires an immense workload is toxic to creativity.
Despite designers leaving brands because of creative clashes and exhaustion, if you look at who is replacing whom it seems odd.
I mean Riccardo Tisci for Burberry and Hedi Slimane at Céline really doesn’t make sense, if you solely look at their work with YSL and Givenchy. Sliman's’ sequins and sultry allure at Saint Laurent by no means screams Céline, I would have loved to be a fly on a wall during these meetings to understand their logic.
I’m not knocking the decision and maybe I am close-minded and can’t see the connection, but both these decisions seem particularly left field.
However, that may just be the point, and it’s all about survival to keep up with the times.
Are these brands trying to pull a Gucci and become cultural influencers?
The answer is probably because if you look at Gucci’s financial trajectory the house is set to become one of the most profitable in the industry. This makes me think Burberry is trying to appeal to something fresh, to attach itself to a thriving market.
Alas, in 2018 fashion observers will start to see how these fashion musical chairs will influence the industry. Considering a lot of collections have felt, in truth, a little lackluster, perhaps these shake-ups will breathe some excitement back into the industry.
Words by Faye Couros