VOL. MMXIII..No. 209

Bold Moves | Strategy in Perspective

Adieu Alber: Are Fashion’s Corporate Leaders Killing the Great Creative Directors?



That these are troubling times for fashion is only underscored by yesterday’s announcement that Lanvin creative director Alber Elbaz had been quite suddenly fired.


The announcement came on the heels of several other major personnel shuffles: Dior’s creative director, Raf Simons, resigned October 22, while in August it was Alexander Wang at Balenciaga. In June, Donna Karan resigned from her namesake brand, while Marissa Webb was sacked at Banana Republic.


There are many reasons why designers are pushed out of fashion houses but lately the shuffles have become more desperate and some would say, worrisome. Granted, there were few tears over Alexander Wang’s departure at Balenciaga.



>> Read our recent blog post, The Final Bow: Will Donna Karan’s Exit Kill the Brand?



tumblr_mkf3md4WPF1qbd9iyo1_1280At top: many were shocked by Donna Karan’s departure from her namesake brand. Below: Alexander Wang’s departure from Balenciaga caused less alarm and judging from his t-shirt, he never saw the line between his own brand and the brand he worked for.

Off the record, many agreed that Wang brought little originality to the brand and that he generally did little more than infuse it with the same looks he created for his own brand. His short stint at Balenciaga came to an abrupt end with both parties insisting that the separation was mutual.


Still, there is cause for concern that this game of musical chairs within the upper echelons of major fashion brands is becoming all too common, and highlights the fact that corporate executives are getting impatient for the kind of explosive acclaim that used to be more common in years before. Make that decades: Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Helmut Lang – designers who made headlines long before the internet held the sway it does now.


So who are today’s long-term fashion stars? Are corporate executives putting too much pressure on fashion’s creatives and scapegoating the very people responsible for the future of the world’s most iconic brands?


It’s a notion few will openly admit – not if they want to keep working.


Is There a Dior After Galliano?


At Dior, designer Raf Simons managed to prove that there is a Dior after Galliano. In just a little over two years, he managed to bring new energy to a brand that had been darkened by the drama of John Galliano’s racist rant and his subsequent firing. This past spring’s Bubble House show in Cannes and spring 2016 show at the Louvre only underlined Simon’s ability to ably channel the house’s namesake.


It is well known however, that the Dior brand is LVMH head Bernard Arnault’s “jewel,” and more than likely Simons felt frustrated by the lack of control he was able to exert over the brand. He was blocked, for instance, from having any input on the brand’s men’s wear strategy and the two brands operated as separate entities.





Designer Raf Simons stepped into the difficult role of succeeding John Galliano after his disastrous fall from grace. While he earned considerable acclaim, it’s clear he felt hindered by being part of such a large corporate machine.


Elbaz Under Fire


Was it the champagne, or did he know the end was nigh?


At the Fashion Group International’s star-studded event, Alber Elbaz decided to get a little too honest and that may have been the icing on the cake for his sudden firing.


It was a speech peppered with his personal musings about the fashion industry – and his frustrations.


Designer Alber Elba is a classic example of the romantic designer, one who believes in the artistry of fashion. But like many, he has been forced to learn that fashion is indeed a very serious business.

“We designers started as couturiers with dreams, with intuitions and with feelings,” said Elbaz, which received nods from many of the designers in attendance. “Then we became creative directors, so we have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, making sure it looks good in the pictures….Loudness is the new cool, and not only in fashion. I prefer whispering. I think it goes deeper and lasts longer.”

{ “We became creative directors, so we have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, making sure it looks good in the pictures….Loudness is the new cool.” }

Some at the event were courageousness enough to vocalize their agreement. Said Jonathan Anderson, the latest wunderkind, “Fashion is moving at the speed of boredom,” while Jason Wu called the industry simply “too serious.”


But shareholders are deadly serious when it comes to running a profitable business and they don’t have patience for fashion that “whispers” — especially when the market is full of brands who have no problem commanding attention with lavish advertising campaigns, celebrity spokespersons, and cavernous flagship stores.




At top, Elbaz with Lanvin majority shareholder, Shaw-Lan Wang. Below, Elbaz’s resignation letter in which he wishes that Lanvin “finds the business vision it needs to engage in the right way forward.”

Elbaz reported to one shareholder with colossal expectations : Shaw-Lan Wang, a Taiwanese publishing magnate who, 14 years ago, recruited him to revive the 175 year old Lanvin brand: what she then called “a sleeping beauty.”


In a relatively short time – all things considered — Elbaz made Lanvin one of the most desired luxury brands on the market, but he was often frustrated by Wang’s inability to push the brand to the next level.


She sold the brand’s perfume and cosmetics division in order to raise capital, but it’s unclear if that cash was funneled into the brand. Nevertheless it was an equity sell-out that only diminishes the valuation of a brand.


Lanvin’s sales have dwindled to $221 million compared with a peak a few years ago of $276M, and the brand continues to be over dependent on wholesale partners who make up 70% of the brand’s total revenues.


The Art of Fashion is Business


The fact of the matter is, fashion is serious, to the point where corporate shareholders have become less and less willing to make strategic investments and support the time it takes for a brand to gain momentum. Case in point: Schiaparelli and Vionnet, both “sleeping beauties” in their own right but still very much asleep.



Big lavish campaigns, like this one for Dior, are instrumental in building luxury brands but many designers feel hindered by the crass commercialism.


More and more, a healthy network of stores coupled with a rich e-commerce experience has become critical for a brand to gain traction with customers, especially since stores are the most tangible way to communicate the total brand experience.


Stores, however, take capital. Lots of it, and Lanvin has suffered without this presence.


As much as many in the industry denies it, fashion – even haute couture — is not art, it’s business. Today’s creative director must be equal parts designer, showman, marketer, and business strategist. It’s a job description that clearly has caused bitterness within its ranks.


On Instagram, fashion blogger Bryanboy writes, “Maybe it’s time to go back to the essence of being a real designer owning a fashion house, and not this age of ‘creative direction.’”

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