Designer Departure: Utter Despair or A New Hope?

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for being AWOL for so long! End of term assignments have just taken up all of my spare time, but I’m back now and determined to publish a batch of blog posts to compensate for not posting in the past month! I’d like to thank everyone who’s stayed with me and hasn’t lost interest, I really appreciate all of my readers!


The departure of a chief creative director, especially the more high-profile ones, has always given the fashion world a certain anxiety. What is often misunderstood about the role of the creative director is that they directly design collections for their brand themselves; rather than designing (although, yes, I’m sure many creative directors do actually design for the final collections), they create and give the designers an overarching concept in which collections will be based be based on. Their role is to establish which designs should be created, and manage the creative direction of the brand as a whole, as their title name suggests.

Whether it be creating a certain ambience through the meticulously-planned location design, lighting and music of a runway show, or projecting an elemental idea to the brand’s designers, the creative director must also undertake the responsibility of maintaining their brand’s core values and origins. Take Raf Simons, one of my favourite designers, who announced back in October that he would be retiring from his role as creative director at Christian Dior to focus on his eponymous label and other ventures. His first collection at the French fashion house, Fall 2012 Haute Couture was well-received, despite Simons never having any previous experience with haute couture. Cathy Horan sums up perfectly why Simons was the perfect choice for Dior: “His clothes are often so simple that you have to look at them for a while before you see the small gesture or the magisterial way a sleeveless black crepe dress falls over the body, defining the waist, rounding the hips, then floating out again just below the knees.”

Fast-forward to the Spring 2016 collection. The show location? A tent covered in a million fresh blue flowers, among them delphinium, orchids and mimosa. Perhaps a symbolic tribute, a nod of approval from the late Christian Dior himself – who loved flowers; a generous farewell to Simons, who has spent three years at the brand. Is it the end of the world that he’s left? While his ability to translate modernism into feminine womenswear will be certainly be missed, designers cannot remain at a brand forever; inevitably, they come and go and are replaced by a new creative. 

Take A Bow...
Take A Bow…Left to right: Raf Simons at Dior…
…Alexander Wang at Balenciaga…
…Alber Elbaz at Lanvin; all have announced their departure at their respected brands this year.



Arguably, there are only two great couture houses left in Paris, Dior and Chanel. Two of the biggest names in fashion, what gives them their iconic status is that they are two of the oldest fashion houses which still stand prominently today and have created looks which have revolutionised the way women dressed in the 20th century. Christian Dior is famous for creating the “New Look” in 1947, a collection consisting of dresses with tiny waists, full skirts and emphasis on the bust. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, meanwhile, created a countless number of iconic pieces with the modern woman in mind, from the tweed suit to two-tone slingback pumps to the little black dress to the quilted 2.55 handbag.

With this in mind, it’s not just carrying on the blueprint of these iconic designs, which the creative director is almost expected to adapt and reappropriate for the modern day, it is the legacy of them and its founding designers which must be carried on in order to maintain a lasting appeal and influence. While being mindful of the brand’s roots, the creative director is also expected to distinguish their own style and imprint their personal flare into the brand. Part of the fun of fashion is being able to observe stylistic differences as and when one designer is replaced by another throughout the history of a particular fashion house – c’est la vie de la mode!

So maybe we shouldn’t despair too much when a much-beloved creative director leaves a fashion house. But what of the fashion-legendary Karl Lagerfeld when he passes away? With a career in fashion spanning over an incredible fifty years, he is currently the creative director of Fendi, his eponymous brand, and has been in charge at Chanel for three decades. Lagerfeld is such a key figure in fashion that a simple mention of the word “Karl” doesn’t need any further explanation. He has become a symbolic part of their brand, injecting his distinctive persona into the French fashion house. I’ve wondered…is Karl irreplaceable? Well, when a man has spent thirty years immersing himself in his work, to the point where he lives and breathes Chanel (note: Karl has previously said that he is so busy that he doesn’t have time to feel lonely) (he is 83 years old), there is no way Karl is burning out. Even when he is eventually replaced, he will never truly be replaced: his legacy will always remain at Chanel, there is no doubt about that.

What are your thoughts? Do you think a brand will ever be the same when a creative director has made such an impact? Are certain chief designers irreplaceable?

thestylebanks x



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