Designers’ departures: Why don’t fashion houses keep their creative directors?

The news of Alber Elbaz leaving Lanvin fashion house, where he spent almost half of his fashion career up to now, breaks into the fashion world like a tropical storm. The surprise was even bigger as the announcement, followed just by six days that of Raf Simons revealing he was leaving Christian Dior after three years and six fashion weeks. So does this wave of departures indicate that we are witnessing an era when the loyalty of designers to fashion houses starts to fade or does it mean that factors which could lead to such decisions have been shifted?

In the past few years, the fashion industry has experienced many surprising departures. Most recently in 2015, Alexander Wang left Balenciaga, the house where he arrived generating high expectations, just to come to the finale with an explanation that he needed time to focus on his personal business. It was the same reason given by Marc Jacobs when he left Louis Vuitton in 2013 and a few years earlier in 2004 Michael Kors said the same thing at his departure from Céline. However, another reason for leaving Dior stated by, Mr.Simons is his desire to spend more time to “focus on other interests in my life”.

Raf Simons at the Dior SS16 show

Dior Paris Spring Summer 2016. Who would think this is Mr.Simon’s last goodbye kiss for Dior? Photo: Rindoff/Le Segretain/Getty

“Time” seems to be the keyword for this trend of designer leaving houses. Of course, in this modern time, while the media always hover around for the new collections, fashion weeks after fashion weeks with endless promotions, designers have so much pressure to bear on their shoulders, not to mention the high expectations from customers and fashionistas when they look into a high-fashion brand. With such short amount of time to process heavy workloads, many fashion designers have expressed the worry that time is not on their side. The lack of time might slowly kill the creativity needed for the position of a creative director at an iconic fashion house.

But still, the news that it was Lanvin that ended the contract with Mr. Elbaz has stirred the question: if his design was creative enough to last an amicable relationship with the French couture house for almost fifteen years, then why can’t he stay any longer except for the statement that his departure was a “decision of the company’s majority shareholder” ? In every business, the main goal is to distribute and gain, sometimes the “creativity issue” can go so far as a larger-than-life message, which possibly does not fit the tastes of some people, or it could simply be just a few digits in the “net income” part of an annual balance sheet.

Lanvin backstage at Milan Spring Summer 2015 women's ready-to-wear collections.

Alber Elbaz backstage at Milan Spring Summer 2015 women’s ready-to-wear show. Although there has been an official announcement from both sides, the future remains unknown for Mr.Elbaz.

However, we are in the era where everything can be shared as fast as just one click, since the departing news can be spread like Ebola virus, the loyalty of customers should be concerned. According to Thomas Chauvet, a customer analyst of Citigroup, for sure in some period between the departure of the old designer and the arrival of a new one the sales will decline. But can we be confident that the customers will stay faithful to the brand when the new desinger introduces his new aesthetic or on the contrary, in worst case scenario like that of Gucci, where the leaving of the star-designer marked an ascension period of the Italian brand.

2015 was a year of many departures, from Alexander Wang to Raf Simons and now the dropped bomb: Alber Elbaz. In each case the situation and the reasons were different, but whatever happened between these designers and their fashion houses, whether it was a peaceful separation or turned into a null relationship, these departures imply that although fashion values highly creativity, it is also restricting it by certain logical conditions and very stressful workload. This may result in many “break-ups”, as we have seen so far this year. After all, despite all these obstacles, the spirit and beauty of fashion’s  heritage should not be abandoned. It has to be refreshed and renewed by those who choose to be inspired by it, as people usually say: adversity is the mother of wisdom.

Written by Trang Nguyen