Recruiting New Designers: Talent Scouts Now Favor Milan's Seasoned Hands

The Nineties trend of hiring unproven designers to rejuvenate storied brands has given way to a new appreciation of more seasoned talents.

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PARIS — Wanted: fashion designer, preferably European. Experience — and lots of it — is essential.

That is how top European talent scouts might compose a help-wanted ad for the industry today. They say the Nineties trend of hiring young, unproven designers to rejuvenate storied brands has given way to a new appreciation of more seasoned talents — the type found mostly on the Continent.

And, according to some observers, such a profile is currently in abundance around Milan.

“I think it’s the moment of Italy,” said Concetta Lanciaux, a key adviser to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman Bernard Arnault, and the French luxury group’s executive vice president of synergies. “For the first time in a long time, I believe we will see some strong creative talents come out of Italy. Designers who work in the fashion industry in Italy are really substantial. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

In the Nineties, European luxury groups went hunting for designers mostly in America and the U.K., when LVMH, for example, bagged Michael Kors for Celine, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, John Galliano for Christian Dior and first Alexander McQueen and later Julien Macdonald for Givenchy. But now brand owners seem to be focused on Italy.

As reported in WWD on Monday, Celine has been in advanced negotiations with Milan-based designing duo Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared to succeed Kors, whose contract at the house expires next spring. The news comes only weeks after Valentino hired Italian Damiano Biella, previously the creative director at Carolina Herrera, to become its new studio director, and LVMH named Sardinia-based Antonio Marras to spearhead the creative direction of its Kenzo fashion house. Marras, who shows his signature line today as part of Milan fashion week, is slated to show his first collection for Kenzo next March.

Interviewed Wednesday, Marras quipped that he sometimes wondered if he would have had more success if his surname started with a Mc or Mac. But he said the fact that it takes more effort for upstart Italian designers to get attention from the media and retailers only makes them work harder.

“Italy is in a very good position now,” he said. “These big groups are realizing that Italy is very good at melding creativity with commercial clout.”
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