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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Floriane de Saint Pierre, a leading recruitment specialist here, agreed, saying brand managers and shareholders are too often swayed by “media pressure” when faced with choosing a designer for a rebranding initiative.

“They chose the designer rather than the strategy,” she said in an interview. “They don’t realize that every season there is hype. It’s a very dangerous choice to just take the person who is supported by the hype of the moment. Management should really resist the urge to be immediately in the media and really give time for the creative director to work seriously. My opinion is that you should have a clear view of your strategy and positioning and then choose the designer who fits the strategy.”

De Saint Pierre cited Alber Elbaz’s appointment at Lanvin as one recent example of a match that works “perfectly well,” whereas Alexander McQueen’s short-lived and rocky reign at Givenchy remains a telling case of where “the roots of the house and the designer didn’t match.”

According to Picart, a successful rejuvenation requires three ingredients: a house with real potential, a designer and a manager with a shared vision for the brand, and ample resources to invest in research, distribution and promotion. He noted that brands in the throes of reinvention need to “run faster” than stronger competitors and quickly make up for lost time.

For those reasons, it’s no coincidence that “rich” companies have had the most success: Chanel, Christian Dior and Burberry, among them, he noted.

De Saint Pierre said the need to persevere cannot be overstated, but it’s often difficult for small companies to sustain heavy investment.

“The smaller companies, they expect immediate success or — poof — they change,” she said. “I think it’s impossible to find someone who will the first season make a miracle. A designer needs three or four seasons to understand the house.”

Complicating the matter, “often for the designer, they are not so inspired by the house,” Picart said. “They just need the money to build their own label.”

Such mercenary relationships have long existed in fashion, but they rarely add up to success. “It’s the same difference between being in love and a one-night stand,” Picart said.
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