Within six months of the shocking moves at Lanvin and Christian Dior, Hedi Slimane’s departure from Saint Laurent was announced, and Anthony Vaccarello is officially moved in. The excitement across the industry at yet another well-spread rumour being true, presents a great amount of pressure and opportunity for the young Italian. Donatella Versace’s friend and protegé has a growing eponymous brand, and a fairly famous stint at Versus under his belt, but it remains unsure how much success he’ll find at Saint Laurent. This is by no means due to his ability to lead as a head designer, but rather because the fashion industry within the past five years has reflected major changes in how creatives and corporate representatives work together.
Anthony Vaccarello for Versus Versace Spring/Summer 2016 collection.
What catalyses a fashion world departure has become almost solely based on navigating various business tensions. Thus, to be well informed and able to predict changes in the fashion world that could affect not only business, but culture, one must question immediately just how long a new hire will last. For Vaccarello, it will all depend on whether he values creative directing for its artistic ideology, or for its productive position within the exchange of luxury goods.
The fashion industry has always included high turnover rates within all facets of the industry. Large houses seek to maintain their high functioning media presences by developing several extensive collections each year. So, creative directors in this arena have a large responsibility to meet the public’s demands. Those such as Olivier Rousteing of Balmain know exactly how to play with consumer engagement to benefit both himself and his house. Somewhat oppositely, Alber Elbaz, Raf Simons, and Nicolas Ghesquière are three examples of highly experienced, talented and famous designers who gave up their positions at top houses because they were caught between their personal career loyalties and those of the brands that they worked under. Their stories provide some evidence as to where Vaccarello’s could lead.
Elbaz worked for 14 years at Lanvin, but disagreements between himself, and both the majority shareholder and the CEO of the house determined the end of his reign there. WWD reported at the time that though Alber felt that he and his team had brought success to the once sinking luxury womenswear brand, he noted personal stress due to the new fashion system. The system, which is devolving based on consumer needs for immediate gratification, was forcing designers to become “image-makers”, exchanging subtlety for simple brand marketing.
Alber is of the camp that sees the position of creative director as responsible for identifying and as he says: “emphasizing the desire, the desire in fashion, [and] the desire in design”, that of the women who consume his work. However, Elbaz was unable to reconcile his principles with the business powers at work at Lanvin.
For Raf Simons, the decision to reject the renewal of his contract at Dior was less about ideological conflicts, but more about the pressures on his creative process. In his late 2015 interview with Cathy Horyn for System, Simons stated that he had trouble coming up with innovative designs at such a fast pace. Even with the resources at Dior, Raf lamented his “lack of time to create” because there was no room for the “incubation” of ideas. He was unable to allow concepts to work through his subconscious so that his conscious could realize their success or failure. So, although he was very successful at modernizing Dior’s traditions, he lost his sense of creative freedom and fulfillment.
Raf Simons for Christian Dior Spring/Summer 2016 collection.
Nicolas Ghesquière sparked a broad disturbance within the fashion industry when he left Balenciaga at the end of 2012. After 15 years at the brand, he had established his own futuristic aesthetic that engaged consumers and reinvented the garment design landscape. However, at the house, his business ideas weren't appreciated, and he felt that his creative process became “so dehumanized”. In his pivotal interview with Jonathan Wingfield for System, Ghesquière describes how “everything became an asset for the brand, trying to make [any creative work] more corporate”. Thus, the business process at the house worked to “steal [his] identity while trying to homogenize things”. It is worth noting that Balenciaga is owned by Kering, the same parent company as Saint Laurent.
Kering has recently shown interest in incorporating young and different designers to lead their brands’ creative departments. Of Anthony Vaccarello, the company’s chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault has stated that he is a “vivid and young force” that the company has much confidence in. For his collections for the house, luxury analysts predict that Vaccarello needs to differentiate his already fitting sexy and dark rock-girl chic understanding of dress, because since Slimane has kept the Saint Laurent collections fairly similar for some time, consumers will soon demand some innovation.
Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent Fall 2016 collection.
Additionally, while Kering is not an enemy by any means and clearly supports Vaccarello’s potential, the young designer should be careful of taking on such a powerful house, especially since his resume is underdeveloped compared to other designers (Elbaz, Simons, etc.) who refused to cope with the pressures of houses included in a large holding company’s assets. He will need to be able to adapt his personal style, and his passion for creative work to better fit the business strategies needed to keep the recent growth of Saint Laurent stable. As the fifth in line after Yves Saint Laurent’s retirement, Vaccarello seems poised to make his own mark on the storied house, and the public will soon see if he has the ability to balance business and ideology.
Words: Annunziata Santelli
Images Source: Walter Pfeiffer / Vogue Runway