Why are big brands like Lanvin and Dior losing their top designers?
This week, news broke that Israeli designer Alber Elbaz was leaving luxury French fashion brand Lanvin after 14 years as artistic director. Famed for reviving the ailing brand and turning it into one of Paris’s most loved labels, the designer’s recent spring 16 collection was full of his sweet yet sexy signatures, particularly his romantically ruffled, prettily peplumed and extravagantly embellished dresses.
What was even more unexpected was the fact that Elbaz was pushed out, revealing in a personal press release that he was leaving “on the decision of the company’s majority shareholder”.
This followed Raf Simons’ announcement a week earlier that, after just three years for “personal reasons”, he was leaving Dior, where he’d successfully injected a bolt of modernity into the storied fashion house. Weeks earlier, it was also revealed that US designer Alexander Wang would not be renewing his contract with the luxury French label Balenciaga.
Why are these brands losing their big-name designers?
It could be that they are desperate to keep the brand relevant. Did Lanvin’s shareholders see what the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton had achieved by bringing in new design talent to breathe life into labels? Elbaz had been designing for Lanvin for over 14 years; did the shareholders think it was time for something different?
The fashion cycle is also speeding up to a point where more and more is demanded of designers. They have to deliver a handful of collections a year, stage extravagant catwalk shows, design sell-out accessories, redesign stores and create enough buzz to keep the brand splashed across social media. This can only lead to creative burnout; might that be why Simons decided to give up his role at Dior?
And, after all the effort, if a designer’s collections don’t sell enough then the axe seems to be falling faster than ever. If the designer doesn’t deliver what the brand owners want, then they could find themselves out of a job. Would that explain why Wang, whose collections for Balenciaga never really stood out, didn’t renew his contract?
The other big question is who will replace both Simons at Dior and Elbaz at Lanvin. It may well set off a game of designer musical chairs, with big names moving around into new roles. Personally, I hope both Dior and Lanvin follow the path of the likes of Gucci and, most recently, Balenciaga, who replaced both designers with unknowns: Alessandro Michele at Gucci and Demna Gvasalia of much-hyped clothing collective Vetements at Balenciaga.