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How long do creative directors last?

5 years might be the most successful timeframe for a designer leading a fashion house

How long do creative directors last? 5 years might be the most successful timeframe for a designer leading a fashion house

There's an expression that much more than others in recent years has been used to highlight the constant changes at the top of the fashion houses. The so-called 'musical chairs' has become the most fitting definition to describe the evolution of the creative direction in recent years, reflecting a well-established practice within the fashion system, used to working at a very fast pace, relying on equally short cycles.

In this regard, the report published a few days ago by the analysis company Bernstein and published by Quartz, which analyzed the profitability, company share prices and the enterprise value of various fashion brands in relation to sales is very striking. What Bernstein has identified is a period of time of 5 years from the settlement of a new creative director in which there is a significant increase in sales, and after a period of adjustment, the beginning of a slow decline. Five years would, therefore, seem to be the maximum time in which to identify the rise and fall of a new creative direction. 

Before going on, it should be noted that Bernstein's report took under exam the case of 18 different creative directors, without taking into account the relationship between creative directors and source of income; nevertheless, the report gives a faithful portrait of today's industry, which has become enslaved by the concept of novelty. Never as in recent years, the fashion industry in its entirety has resumed methods and practices typical of the streetwear world, first of all, the concept of hype - as nss magazine reported in the Digital Cover 03 - building its charm and its strength on the constant search for the next big thing. Ultimately, it is the novelty that fuels sales.  

Nothing attracts more attention or creates more expectation than a designer called to revive the fate of a dying brand or with a very long history, even more, if that designer does not fully belong to that universe. This is what happened in the months prior to Riccardo Tisci's first fashion show for Burberry, a designer with an education and a background very distant from the heritage and the English history of a brand like Burberry. But even more so was the case of Louis Vuitton and Virgil Abloh. Leaving out for a moment the historical significance of this appointment, and the buzz that the first rainbow fashion show generated, there is a very interesting fact: back in January 2019, in the pop-up of the French brand in Tokyo, in the first 48 hours the brand had recorded more sales than those of the collaboration with Supreme, testifying to how much Abloh had created interest in the brand. 

The most exemplary case of the temporal parable traced by Bernstein is certainly Gucci, under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele. With the arrival of the Roman designer, Gucci has experienced exponential growth, becoming the most important brand in the Kering portfolio. Landed at the helm of the historic Florentine label almost as a perfect stranger, Michele had the genius of introducing a brand new, unique and original aesthetic from his very first show, completely different from the one Gucci consumers were used to, finding in this the key to success. From 2015, the year of the appointment, until today, that aesthetic has remained substantially unchanged, and perhaps in some ways, a very timid principle of decline is beginning to be glimpsed. In any case, at every show, at every event, there has always been an element, a detail that has kept the interest in the brand alive, whether it was the severed heads brought to the catwalk or the show that opened with models wearing straitjackets. 

In this respect, there is another element not to be forgotten. Great and historic luxury Maisons do not make a profit on the sale of their clothes, in particular those that are seen on the catwalk, as instead, they are totally dependent on the sale of accessories, leather goods, perfumes and cosmetics, the most accessible products to a much larger audience. This is why despite the fluctuating performance, alternating successes and failures, more or less positive criticisms, big brands that can rely on hero products, whether it's a best-selling bag or a perfume that has become a classic, they won't be affected as others when a new creative director comes or goes. These staple products function as a sort of cushion, absorbing shocks and collapses, and in fact, constitute a solid base on which the brand can dare and experiment without risking too much. Wanting to give a concrete example, probably it would have changed little if after the death of Karl Lagerfeld at the helm of Chanel someone other than Virginie Viard had taken over, the bags, perfumes, lipsticks of the brand would have continued to sell as much as before, if not more. 

The announcement, a few days ago, of the appointment of Matthew Williams as creative director of Givenchy, generated a lot of interest and attention. After three years under the leadership of Clare Waight Keller, the French brand tries unequivocally to rejuvenate its image, opening up to an audience of Millennial and Gen Z that Williams takes with him from ALYX, also looking for a new creative boost when it comes to the collections. It remains to be seen whether Williams' reign at Givenchy will really last five years.