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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Still, there have been enough successful marriages in fashion — Lagerfeld at Chanel, Tom Ford at Gucci, Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga and John Galliano at Christian Dior, for example — to inspire countless imitators.

Concetta Lanciaux, executive vice president of synergies at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and one of chairman Bernard Arnault’s key advisers, said she views the revolving door as a positive phenomenon.

“To me, it indicates there is a very strong search for the right person,” she said. “The match between the designer and the brand is becoming an ever-more crucial choice.”

Indeed, in a recent interview with WWD, Arnault said: “Remarkable success stems from the perfect match of the brand and its…designers. Had I hired Marc Jacobs for Dior and John Galliano for Louis Vuitton, it would not have been working as well for both brands, even though both designers are geniuses of their own kind.”

Lanciaux acknowledged that engineering perfect matches is becoming “increasingly difficult” and dependent on managers who understand as completely as designers “the DNA of the brand.”

Lagerfeld, who arrived at Chanel 20 years ago, agreed the chances of a successful comeback are becoming increasingly slim — while those such as Celine and Givenchy are “in stronger hands” because they are part of LVMH. “Many brands lost their image a long time ago and are just surviving businesses. A match can be successful when the right people get together and when there is a strong past in fashion,” he said, citing Chanel and Dior as good examples. “The talent can be as fresh as it wants — if the story is not handled well, it may not work. It’s very difficult for most houses and designers. Average houses and average ‘young’ designers should forget about it.”

Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, suggested many brands fail during relaunch because they make too drastic a change, more often than not taking the house in a young, edgy direction.

“I do feel you have to have a balance. You don’t throw out the old customer with the bath water,” she said. “And if you are going after a young customer, the prices have to be commensurate. If you do it well, you can dress the mother, the daughter and the grandmother, like Chanel does.”
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