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The dawn of a new era in fashion leadership

The dawn of a new era in fashion leadership


With nearly a dozen new names and positions announced since 2023, the fashion industry could become a place for new and progressive ideas if we let it.

One of the crucial truths about fashion is that it is constantly evolving. Its present is never the actual present but rather an idea of ​​what the present might look like six months in the future. What anchors the constant cycle of newness is that its main characters, including many creative directors of European heritage brands, are often in post for extended periods. Since 2023, however, the industry has seen massive turnover, with new creative directors appointed or about to be appointed at more than 10 labels, including Alessandro Michele at Valentino, Sen McGirr at Alexander McQueen, Chemena Kamali in Chlo, Sarno Saturday at Gucci, Pharrell Williams at Louis Vuitton men, Peter Hawkings at Tom Ford and Adrian Appiolaza at Moschino. No successors have yet been named for Bruno Sialelli at Lanvin and Matthew M. Williams at Givenchy, whose departures from their respective labels were confirmed last year. Perhaps the most surprising news of the year was Dries Van Notens' announcement that he would be leaving the label he founded in 1986, with a replacement to be named later this year. The industry responded with heartfelt tributes to a man who, for nearly 40 years, helped build the wardrobes of proudly independent women with secretly romantic ideas about dressing. The writing is on the wall: we are entering a change in fashion mood.

Creative director positions at major labels can sometimes seem like nothing more than a game of musical chairs, in which a title in one place is swapped for a title in another. This was indeed the case for Michele, who took advantage of a two-year break. full of speculation before the announcement of his new job. But this latest round of nominations is almost entirely made up of behind-the-scenes designers. (Williams, the famously multi-hyphenate celebrity designer, is the exception.)

Sen McGirr was the first foreign designer chosen as creative director of Alexander McQueen following the departure of Sarah Burton at the end of last year. Photo: Courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Fashion designer Chemena Kamali at the Chlo fall 2024 show Photo credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Dries Van Noten surprised the fashion world by announcing that he would retire by the end of this year. Photo: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Looking at the last century, we can identify these changes in fashion mood, a term coined in 2022 by Sean Monahan, a trend that heralds particular moments when the point of view of a designer or group of designers aligns perfectly with the concerns of society and culture as a whole. Think Mary Quant's miniskirts and hot pants in the 1960s, as young people rebelled against the status quo, or Claude Montana's power suits, as women entered the workforce in droves in the 1980s. The industry last experienced such a shift nearly a decade ago, when Michele presented his first Gucci collection for the fall 2015 men's season, followed by Demna's debut at Balenciaga the following year . Both creators were relatively unknown at the time. Michele had spent 13 years at the Italian brand, working his way up to head of accessories, when he was asked to create a menswear collection in five days after Gucci creative director Frida Giannini , left his post earlier than expected. The resulting collection of silk pussy-bow blouses and fur-lined mules, worn by androgynous men with long hair, launched the genderless fashion trend that became one of the style's defining characteristics of the 2010s. Demna, who at the time was called Demna Gvasalia, was the leader of a collective of designers responsible for Vetements, whose conceptual overhaul of everyday clothing and dramatic silhouettes sent an electric shock through the whole industry. Vetements had three collections under its belt when Kering tapped the designer, both legitimizing and amplifying his anarchic point of view. Demna added new words like slippers to our vocabulary, an endless supply of ironic logos emblazoned on clothing and accessories, and the idea that a jacket can never be too oversized nor its shoulders too broad.

Looking back, we can describe this moment as the beginning of an authorial era, where new ideas introduced by outsiders completely changed the way people, beyond fashion connoisseurs, dressed, as their clothes not only made their way to high street stores, but also became mainstream. in the identity politics of our time. More importantly, they opened up debate about the meaning of clothing itself, exploding gender and class signifiers as a way to break from societal expectations.

Alessandro Michele created his first menswear collection for Gucci's fall 2015 season in five days. Yannis Vlamos /

A look from Demnas' first collection for Balenciaga, fall 2016 Photo: Monica Feudi /

Phoebe Philo said of her changing vision for Clines' spring 2010 collection: I just thought I'd clean up. Make it strong and powerful, a kind of contemporary minimalism. Monica Feudi /

But this change does not always depend on an unknown designer ascending to a position of creative power. Remember back in 2010 when Phoebe Philo presented her first real Cline collection. With its clean contemporary minimalism, it marked a major departure from the bohemian-inspired femininity she evoked when she was creative director at Chlo in the early 2000s. It's this same femininity to which Kamali returned with its first collection from the French brand last month, which was greeted with joy by young millennials and older members of Generation Z who were eagerly awaiting the return of a look that defined their adolescence. It remains to be seen whether Michele's new vision at Valentino will build on his previous work or whether he will explore the meaning of Valentino to find commonalities between his sensibilities and those of the great Valentino Garavani. Philo herself is also one of the main characters in this current shift, as we watch her attempt to disengage from the industry's eternal desire for more, more, more, in real time with her freshly founded eponymous label.

Along with the realization that the business foundations that support the industry (i.e. department stores and their online counterparts) are not as stable as once thought and the growing urgency to tackling sustainability issues that once seemed like pleasant things, all these personnel changes are giving way to the idea that the future of the industry is suddenly wide open. After all, it's not fashion alone that has brought discussions about gender and sexuality to the forefront over the past decade, but it has certainly given some people a good starting point. Designers are now able to redefine not only how we dress (the fun part), but also how we can live better, more honest lives by truly focusing on engaging in eco-friendly business practices. the environment and socially throughout the supply chain. It’s not just about working with organic or recycled materials or paying attention to the carbon footprint; it is also about ensuring that the people involved in the process at each stage are not exploited and receive fair wages (the most serious). It remains to be seen where this new era of fashion will take us, but for now let's ride the wave of changing the mood.

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