Alexander Wang & Balenciaga. Raf Simons & Dior. Albert Elbaz & Lanvin. The marriage of visionaries and luxury design houses doesn't always last.
In any industry, there's a constant flux of old and new. The older executives have the experience and the know-how, but the younger associates have energy and are hungry. This is no different in fashion. Though the way a fashion company is organized may be a little different than, say, a tech startup or a finance company, there's still a staid hierarchy that dominates the market.
This year, some of those top dogs at international luxury brands are leaving, hinting that the growth and expansion of the brands they create for is problematic. There is always some exchange here and there, but over the past couple of months, three of the top luxury brands have announced the exits of their creative directors. First, Alexander Wang at Balenciaga, then Raf Simons at Christian Dior, and now Alber Elbaz at Lanvin.
Why is there a trend here? What has changed about the luxury fashion industry that is pushing talented creative directors out?
Alexander Wang, for one, established himself at a very young age (21) with his own eponymous line. He won a CFDA award only a year after his first runway show. Throughout his tenure at Balenciaga, he maintained his own line as well as his affordable sub-brand, T by Alexander Wang. He announced shortly before fashion month this fall that he would be presenting his last collection with the house in Paris.
Raf Simons, too, has his own self-titled line, which he's maintained throughout his role at Christian Dior. When his departure was announced last week after only three and a half years, he cited the stress in creating six collections a year for Dior as a major reason. Raf, like Alexander Wang, is going to focus on his own line.
I would normally assume that this references the struggle of creating and directing at two brands. However, Alber Elbaz has been focused solely on Lanvin for fourteen years, and he's done a phenomenal job. The rumor mill is claiming disagreements between he and Lanvin's owner, Shaw-Lan Wang, and chief executive officer, Michèle Huiban, the reason for his departure.
Elbaz has been known to disagree with Wang's resistance to progress in the brand, and just last week, as he accepted a Superstar award from Fashion Group International out of the hands of Meryl Streep, he substituted a monologue on the pressures of maintaining a design house in the modern, image-driven digital age for his acceptance speech:
Perhaps he's correct. In an age where social media is a driving force behind luxury exposure, Lanvin has been notably absent from the conversation; Loudness is everywhere else. For heaven's sake, we were able to watch the Burberry SS16 London show as a featured Snapchat story. We could watch it at our own convenience - no need to attend a show, or even to navigate over to VogueRunway.com (RIP Style.com) to check it out. There was just a notification on our iPhones! If that's not loud, I don't know what is.
As luxury fashion continues to evolve through the digital age, creative directors are forced to maintain a hand in every aspect of the brand's image, social media included. From Instagram to Snapchat to Twitter and even Periscope, every brand must represent itself perfectly, and only some are keeping up. Hermés is a good example of fashion in tech... They're masters of the Instagram triptych and are fully embracing something most of the fashion world is vehemently rejecting: wearable technology. The latest Apple watch is available with an Hermés leather strap. Hermés is not alone: yesterday, Gucci unveiled it's own hashtag, #GucciGram, aimed at marrying art, graphic design, and fashion. Are all creative directors willing (or able) to do this?
There will certainly be talk of Elbaz taking over Raf's spot at Dior. In fact, he was one of the top contenders for the job back in 2011 when John Galliano was fired for racist remarks, and not chosen only because of his partial ownership in Lanvin. Will this just be another case of musical chairs for top spots at centuries-old design houses, or is there actually a need for change?
It will be interesting to watch the progression of these brands and how their ex-creatives choose to grow. Perhaps this calls for a restructuring of the classic hierarchy; It seems the brands are out-pacing their people. It's time to embrace the digital age, hashtags and all, and not all creative directors are able to create sensational collections six times a year AND have a hand in every tweet. It's time to call in for back up.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go check my Instagram feed.