In 2012, what happened behind the scenes often proved far more interesting than what went on on the catwalks. Designers, perhaps unwittingly, kept up a year-long game of musical chairs: ever since John Galliano‘s exit from Dior and the loss of his own brand, a new fashion era has begun where the star designer is no longer someone business executives are willing to put up with. Here are the top five moves that shocked, surprised and excited the industry.
Some designers have an aura that seems to go beyond their creative capabilities. Such is the case with Hedi Slimane, who has almost become a mythical figure in the fashion business. Discreet by nature and not prone to discussing his work, the French designer changed the way men dressed when he introduced cool urban types to skinny suits and skinnier ties at Dior Homme. His return to the house of Saint Laurent – for which he designed menswear at the end of the 90s – was eagerly awaited, generating a buzz that has rarely been felt before. Packed with celebrities who wouldn’t have missed a minute of his show -including Kate Moss, Salma Hayek and Jamie Hince– you could say that expectations were running high. So did Hedi deliver the goods? Yes and no. Retailers loved the hippie-influenced clothes, but journalists seemed divided, not convinced by Slimane’s Californian vibe.
Another show that gave fashionistas orgasmic bliss was Raf Simons‘ ready-to-wear collection at Dior. After his Haute Couture triumph, which was presented in Paris last July, the Belgian designer offered a striking update on Christian Dior‘s legacy, adding his own modernist touch to the proceedings. Simons‘ impeccably cut trouser suits and iridescent 60s-inspired dresses had an upbeat and refined charm. He focused on essential lines and pure shapes, while managing to avoid drab minimalism. Always happy to bitch about something new, some industry insiders reveled in the so-called rivalry between him and Hedi Slimane, creating a competitive climate during Fashion Week. But let’s get real guys: you can’t really compare what the two men are doing, even though they happen to be from the same generation and both ended up leading major houses at the same time. Only time will tell how long each of them can keep up the pace, though, as working in such pressurised environments often impacts negatively on creativity. Remember what happened to Galliano after 15 years?
No one likes to get kicked out of the business they created themselves, but that’s precisely what happened to Jil Sander. Twice. In 1999, when Prada Group bought a 75% share in her company, she remained the creative designer for all lines. Six months after, the German designer abruptly resigned, following clashes with management, particularly after several confrontations with Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli. When she returned as head designer in May 2003, many thought – as the song says – that she’d be back for good. Unfortunately, she left the building in November 2004, as Bertelli was still in place and prevented her from doing what she wanted. Dubbed “The Queen of Clean”, Sander loved luxurious materials and expensive finishes, which probably didn’t sit well with Bertelli‘s marketing plans. One thing you must know about Sander is that she’s a determined woman, who won’t take no for an answer. After a successful stint at Uniqlo – where she proved the public she could also design affordable clothes – Sander ended up replacing Raf Simons earlier this year, finally returning to the house that bears her name. Although Simons had done a fine job reviving the spirit of the brand, Sander seems to know exactly what she’s doing. Not bad for a designer in her late 60s…
We all know November tends to be a dull month, but Alexander Wang certainly had a terrific one. The New York-based designer, who’s famous for his sportswear-inspired clothes and edgy studded bags, was promoted head designer at Balenciaga, a position Frenchman Nicolas Ghesquière held for 15 years, a record within the fashion industry. No one knows exactly why Ghesquière left, but one can assume that he had a run in with the company’s executives on future directions for the label. The news shocked the industry, as Ghesquière is a stellar designer with a knack for reconciling art with commerce. His collections, praised by press and retailers alike, were daring and directional. Unfortunately, fashion is increasingly governed by sales and Wang has more of a business approach. He’s only in his 20s and many assert that his Chinese roots were a definite plus in helping him get the job. Although his nomination was endorsed by industry’s bigwigs – such as Karl Lagerfeld or Anna Wintour – many voices in the industry have made their feelings clear, judging Wang a poor choice and criticising his commercial approach. Yes, fashion needs to sell, but it shouldn’t be deprived from creative flair, either.
Nicolas Ghesquière @ God Knows Where
Since he left Balenciaga last month, Ghesquière is rumoured to have been in talks with Bernard Arnault -the mighty head of LVMH– to create his eponymous luxury line, something that has yet to be confirmed by a reliable source. It’d be a shame to see such a talent go to waste, but he’s probably got enough support in the industry to land back on his feet. Whatever happens next, we wish him luck and hope his career will flourish. See, not everyone in fashion is mean.