The Creative Director is the one, who determines what a fashion collection should look like – gives the creative direction – and has the last word when it comes to the creative part. Lately, there have been many changes; to mention a few Justin O’Shea left Brioni, Peter Dundas left Emilio Pucci, Anthony Vaccarello recently showed his debut collection at YSL and Maria Grazia Chiuri showed hers at Maison Dior. But what is the role of Creative Directors, actually, anno 2016, where historic and eponymous fashion brands have outlived the founding fashion designer?
So, Anthony Vacarello recently mentioned in an interview that to him, YSL is not about the actual clothes but about an attitude. Or to quote the designer himself “My idea of YSL lies in the attitude”. When he met with Mr Pierre Berger, Berger confirmed Vacarello in not trying to copy Monsieur Saint Laurent, as such an attempt can never be original, contemporary and perhaps successful. With that in mind, we’re looking at a fashion brand, where the actual brand has outlived the designer, who made it, and where these are now considered separate entities.
From a business perspective, this makes sense. What is important is to carry on with the brand, as a million dollar business to run in the best possible way. It’s not about paying continuous homage to Monsieur Saint Laurent – or another great designer – and using the actual clothes as a starting point, but about interpreting his attitude in a modern and relevant way. After all, times have changes and so have the customer and their needs and tastes.
Sparked by the sudden departure of Peter Dundas after only two years at Roberto Cavalli, Vogue’s fashion journalist Sarah Mower reflected on the impact on fashion, and whether these rapid departures of Creative Directors make fashion less respectable and interesting, and what it means to the customer loyalty.
“It only seemed a little while ago that it felt shocking that designers’ contracts with houses were written for ‘just’ three years. Even that seemed an unfeasibly short time for a creative director to marshal internal reorganization whilst also converting the public to a vision—a process which takes much longer, like a friendship, where trust, familiarity, and narrative create the strongest bonds between brand and buyer.”
With this, she is saying that it may be about the brand, but it’s just as much about the vision – or interpretation – of the Creative Director. After all, it’s his or her vision/dream/reality that is being put forward. Therefore, changing too often isn’t a good thing. What Suzy Menkes had to say about the affair on Twitter was this:
Another debut collection that was out during the recent ss17 shows was Maria Grazia Chiuri for Maison Dior. Prior to this, she was one half of the very successful design duo that brought Valentino back to life. Looking at her Dior debut collection, one couldn’t help but noticing certain similarities to what we now know as ‘the Valentino look’ of flared skirts and dresses, high round necklines and transparencies. But of course, with the same creative mind behind, that’s not really particularly strange, and considering both brands have a very feminine and elegant allure, it’s perhaps even less strange.
So, is it about the historic brand or the Creative Director? Personally, I used to love YSL Womenswear under Stefano Pilati, which was before Hedi Slimane took over. It was a lot less commercial and too me had the poetry and resemblance of the original design, which made it very unique, trustworthy and to me captivating. Because, fundamentally, I loved and admired Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent. When Hedi Slimane took over as Creative Director, and the brand was successfully re-launched to appeal to a younger audience, it didn’t resonate with me any more. I will never forget the day, I heard that the name had been changed to Saint Laurent. I’m still not over that. So it says something about customer loyalty – both to the brand in terms of identity (in this case commercial vs. less commercial and sophisticated vs. rock) and to the Creative Director. To a consumer, both things have to work.
So, what is the role of Creative Directors in these days; their finest and noblest job? I may remember wrongly, but it seems to me that Peter Dundas didn’t have prints in his first collection for Pucci, and that is by all means a print brand. The mood was the same as the original one, though, of the American high society tourist lunching in Capri in the 60s. As for Roberto Cavalli, where Dundas worked afterwards, he was also very true to the original mood. Alas, the Cavalli founders are still alive, so perhaps of this, it hasn’t changed dramatically.
On the contrary, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent were the uncrowned kings of the middle of last century, and as fashion has changed remarkably, it’s harder to put forward the same design aesthetics. So, this is when we get to speak about interpreting an attitude, or with other words; interpreting a brand identity, as all designers do, when working for a brand that isn’t their own. The question to ask is ‘Who’s the Dior or Saint Laurent girl anno 2016?’ According to Vacarello – and Slimane before him – she’s a rock chick dressed in black.
Donatella Versace has a similar idea about the Versace Versus girl: “She’s a bad girl, a rebel. She breaks rules.” (It happens that this was where Anthony Vacarello worked, before taking over Saint Laurent.) When I think about the original Versace girl, I think of a super model Barbie perfectly groomed (remember this was the 90s). When I think about the original Yves Saint Laurent woman, I picture a sophisticated woman regardless of whether she wore a smoking, a safari jacket or a Moroccan-inspired outfit (think the 70s), and when I think about the Dior lady, I see a lady-who-launches (think the 50s). These may be very narrow views of decade-long designer careers, and are heavily linked to the era in which the designers lived. The question remains, if fashion brands today should follow the rock look with just a few other acceptable and commercial options such as conceptual, boho, women-who-works-designed-by-women, romantic and street? And if taking over an iconic fashion brand is a funny blur of many design forces, whereas starting your own (which definitely isn’t easy) is like drawing on a clean sheet of paper – in a good way?