Reinvention Failures: Managers' Miscues Hurt Creative Rebirths

Blame management, not designers - at least that’s the opinion among many observers regarding the revolving door at struggling fashion houses.

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Karl Lagerfeld

Photo By WWD Staff

A Lanvin look

Photo By WWD Staff

PARIS — Blame the management, not the designers.

At least that’s the opinion of a growing chorus of recruitment experts, consultants, retailers and other industry observers regarding the continuing revolving door at several fashion houses where rejuvenation attempts are struggling.

Most observers contend overhauling a storied fashion house with fresh design talent remains a valid business formula. But surveying a slew of recent designer changes — at Leonard, Cerruti, Nina Ricci, Louis Féraud, Guy Laroche, Balmain, Claude Montana and Bill Blass, to name but a few — they say the industry must take a harder look at brand potential before embarking on a renewal campaign — and more carefully engineer matches between designers, management and brands.

What’s more, some went so far as to say that the industry must bite the bullet and shutter some houses that have so far failed to spark a renaissance.

“Reviving an old brand? I think it’s done,” said Karl Lagerfeld, who is a master at it. “What can be revived has been revived.

“I am not really interested in the future — or ‘no future’ —of Nina Ricci, Louis Féraud, Leonard, Cerruti, Bill Blass or Guy Laroche,” he continued. “They lost their ‘image’ a long time ago, and are just surviving businesses with more or less chances to survive [due to] too many changes of owners, designers, etc.”

But industry consultant Jean-Jacques Picart believes the blame for any failure lies firmly with the owners and management. “Please don’t blame systematically designers when rebranding fails,” he urged. “It’s not only a matter of capacity and talent on behalf of the designer. It’s much more the talent of the manager who has done the wrong casting. [Managers] are not really checking their own capability to rebrand the house.”

Picart said managers often chose designers based more on their ability to attract immediate attention from retailers and editors, rather than their suitability for the house’s history and aesthetic. Media attention is definitely a “booster” for a job well done, he allowed, but it should not be used as the main engine for a brand’s rejuvenation.
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