On Project Runway, Heidi Klum opened runway shows by saying, “In fashion, one day you are in, and the next one, you are out.” And although these changes happen in the fashion world on a regular basis, it is rare to see a lot of movement in the leading creative roles of big fashion houses. The person in charge of creating collections for Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, or Fendi is usually a person who will maintain the role for some years in order to give a certain sense of stability and direction to the fashion house.
But in 2023, we saw a lot of movements in these leading creative roles. The lengthy and traumatizing consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, mixed with an overall trend moving away from logomania and eccentrism towards quiet luxury and neutrals, and adding the strong need for diversity in leadership positions plus the need to keep relevance and a sense of novelty are some of the causes why we are seeing some of these movements in the fashion industry.
Every case is different. Each brand carries a story and has different priorities, agendas, and goals.
So this is why we’ll talk about some of the most important fashion debuts and farewells we saw this year, why they matter, and how these changes may translate into the fashion we see in new collections to come.
Changes in senior creative roles usually come with a lot of questioning and uncertainty about the future of the fashion house.
The case of Gucci
Alessandro Michele boosted Gucci’s popularity with maximalism, pop culture, and a retro-futuristic dynamism that became part of Gucci’s identity during Michele’s era as the Creative Director. But as Gucci tried to recover from the pandemic in places like China, which constitute about a third of their total sales, demands for Michele’s work and outcomes were increasing, but he preferred not to delegate some of his work to other creatives and assistants, as Gucci had suggested, Michele stepped down as Creative Director in November 2022.
The breakup between the designer and the brand lifted skepticism about Gucci’s path back to being one of the most popular brands and what direction Gucci would take for its next Creative Director.
This is a very important decision because even though collections change season after season, a fashion designer brings a certain aesthetic to the fashion house. Yes, they follow the brand identity elements but propose something true to the designer and their vision.
Gucci had a very loud, sexual, and irreverent era, while Tom Ford led from 1994 to 2004. This was very different from his successor, Frida Giannini, who designed for Gucci from 2006 to 2014. Her designs were sophisticated femininity, embracing the Italian heritage of the brand and the richness of its textiles, leathers, and materials.
So, when Alessandro Michele announced he was about to step down from Gucci. The questions around who would be the next Creative Director implied, as redundant as it sounds, what creative direction will the Italian take? Minimal, extravagant, muted, retro, feminine, architectural? The options are endless.
Sabato de Sarno is the new Creative Director of Gucci. De Sarno has previously worked at Prada, Valentino, and another Italian fashion house. De Sarno’s work has brought back some minimal sophistication that aligns with the quiet luxury massive movement happening in fashion.
Sarah Burton Says Goodbye to Alexander McQueen
The farewell collection of Sarah Burton was so emotional that supermodel Naomi Campbell cried on the runway as she walked down in the finale.
Within months after Alexander McQueens sadly lost his life, Sarah Burton, who had been working full-time at the British luxury fashion house since 2000 as Head of Womenswear, assumed the role of Creative Director of Alexander McQueen.
This was a huge responsibility with many expectations and big shoes to fill in. Alexander McQueen passed away in early 2010, less than three months after Lady Gaga released the Bad Romance music video, with iconic pieces from the designer’s last collections, from Armadillo shoes and Atlantis inspired footwear to catsuits and headpieces.
McQueen’s work received global visibility and gave British fashion a huge sense of pride. A year later, Sarah Burton was in charge of this fashion house that, unlike Gucci, hadn’t had a successor before, so it was hard to determine how different the work should be from that made by the designer who founded and named the brand.
Sarah Burton made Alexander McQueen more commercial but still maintained a leading place in the fashion industry when it comes to setting trends and positioning. Some memorable moments from the British brand by Burton include Princess Kate Middleton’s wedding dress and Lady Gaga’s gown for the 2019 Oscars, the night she received her first Academy Award.
Jeremy Scott Says Goodbye to Moschino
Moschino is an Italian fashion brand that Franco Moschino established in 1983. After Moschino passed away in 1994, his friend Rossella Jardini led the creative direction of the brand for about two decades until Jeremy Scott, born and raised in Missouri, became Moschino’s creative director in 2013.
This was a moment when celebrity fashion was irreverent and almost cartoonish. Katy Perry was spending $3 million for the Dark Horse music video with a colorful, techno futuristic Egyptian-inspired scenography and costumes. Miley Cyrus was twerking on stage with a mouse leotard, and Lady Gaga arrived on the red carpet riding a horse made of Chanel purses. That was 2013’s fashion.
As entertainment flirted with social media and celebrities were going above and beyond to make a statement wherever they went, Jeremy Scott found an interesting combination between fashion and a sense of humor that for over a decade people loved and hated, but in the end, kept the conversation going about his work and about Moschino.
Jeremy Scott is the creative mind behind Katy Perry’s Super Bowl looks, Cardi B’s Catholic-inspired Met Gala look, and Madonna’s army gown. Jeremy Scott brought Moschino back to the headlines of the fashion press with designs that were irreverent and humorous. A “fast-fashion” collection inspired by the Happy Meal, where Moschino’s first letter is shaped like the McDonald’s logo. There was also a burned ball-themed show where the gowns were on fire or a Fresh couture collection inspired by cleaning products.
We saw over a decade of Jeremy Scott’s vision for Moschino, mixing pop culture humor with the digital fashion era. In March of this year, it was announced that Jeremy Scott would step down as Creative Director of Moschino. He is not retiring, and his fashion designer career will continue.
There was no further explanation as to whether the decision was made because fashion was now stepping away from the eccentric trends of 2010s and moving more toward quiet luxury or if it was simply because a decade had passed and it was time for someone else to succeed leading the creative direction of the Italian brand.
Moschino assigned Davide Renne, former head of Gucci’s womenswear and well-loved figure in Italian fashion, as creative director of Moschino. Davide Renne passed away ten days after assuming the role.
Pharrell Williams Says Hello to Louis Vuitton
Virgil Abloh passed away in November 2021 due to cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare type of cancer. Abloh was the Louis Vuitton menswear fashion designer behind some major fashion moments of the last decades. Serena Williams tutu and Timothée Chalamet’s bibs for the Golden Globes are a few examples. Abloh blended streetwear with luxurious fashion and pop culture, creating a very successful era for Louis Vuitton.
So when the announcement came out that Pharrell Williams would be the new Men’s Creative Director, more than one raised eyebrows. Has fashion’s emphasis on the entertainment business gone too far? Shouldn’t an “established designer” be leading the creative direction of one of the oldest and most relevant fashion houses in the world?
Pharrell’s debut took place in Paris, with one of the most expected front rows of the season as the attendees included Rihanna, Beyonce, A$AP Rocky, Jared Leto, Kim Kardashian, Maluma, and Leny Kravitz. The show had over a thousand attendees, and the production created some wonderful visuals blended with a great soundtrack. But when the show ended, celebrities left, and the collection stood alone by itself, more than one wondered if it was enough.
Rihanna and A$AP Rocky at the Louis Vuitton men’s show. Image Courtesy of Vogue France.
Pharrell presented a collection with a lot of references to previous designs from Louis Vuitton: Boxy cardigans with squares, crunched-down socks, and some full looks that referenced Pharrell himself in previous years. But there weren’t any surprise moments, a play of silhouettes, or anything that would stand out as what is meant to be a new beginning for Men’s Louis Vuitton.
Some believed Pharrell may be pushing the envelope further as he feels more comfortable with time and experience. But the question of whether fashion designers should be the ones designing fashion prevails.
In an interview with GQ earlier this year. Pharrell stated, “I look at myself like I’m the real customer. So I design for what it is that I want and what I’m going to need”. In design school, this is one of the first lessons of what fashion designers should not be doing.
Virgil Abloh’s collections for Louis Vuitton carried a story to tell, richness in textures, silhouettes, and consistency. Image Courtesy of Complex.
Because designers are, most of the time, not designing for themselves. They create clothing and tell stories for people who don’t know and will never meet in their lifetime. Louis Vuitton has an international presence with centuries of prestige and victorious moments in fashion history, as those in the creative roles understood they were designing to maintain and uplift the relevance of the brand and offering something relevant to the customers, rather than offering it to themselves.
Only time and sale numbers will determine the direction Louis Vuitton Mens will take in future collections to come.
Matthew Williams Says Goodbye to Givenchy
The mastermind behind putting Lady Gaga in a meat dress led the Creative Direction of Givenchy for three years. Williams and Givenchy will go separate ways, effective January 1, 2024.
The somewhat controversial decision to hire Williams as Creative Director of Givenchy haunted him for three years, as fashion critics claimed it wasn’t clear what Williams’s Givenchy stands for. Without a clear path, Givenchy is set to announce a new creative director to lead the brand.
Last century, fashion designers were like royals on a throne, serving in their role until their last days of life.
But as fashion accelerates its production speed and the number of collections to be presented every year, customers have more and more expectations of established fashion houses. The clothes have to be innovative without losing the brand identity. The fashion shows must stand out, with a great front row and pieces that celebrities can wear to red carpets and events. These collections are not happening just twice a year as they used to, but most fashion houses present Spring-Summer, Cruise or Pre-Fall, Fall-Winter, and collections for haute couture and / or menswear. It’s a lot.
There’s only so much that fashion designers can do in a tight frame, checking all these boxes for some years, until customers start to find it repetitive and sales begin to decline in a very competitive market.
Although 2023 was an exception for the high volume of changes we saw in creative leading positions in the fashion industry, this may become the norm as fashion houses fight hard to maintain their relevance and appeal to the customers that are following them for years, and to attract the new generations to come. As Heidi Klum said at the beginning of Project Runway shows: “One day you are in, and the next one you are out.”