This week, a look at why so many luxury brands are replacing their creative directors right now. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
When Jeremy Scott stepped down as creative director of Moschino in May of this year, he had been at the brand for a decade. In that time, he’d shaped the brand into his own irreverent image; he made his particular interests, like infusing humor and irony into his designs, a staple for which Moschino is now known.
But Scott is an increasingly rare breed. More frequently, fashion brands are switching up their creative directors at a cadence that’s much shorter than 10 years. In July, Walter Chiapponi stepped down from the role at Tod’s after only three years, and Rhuigi Villaseñor left Bally after barely over a year in May.
We’re in the middle of a great reshuffling of creative directors across luxury fashion. In the last month alone, Tod’s, Rochas, Givenchy and Alexander McQueen have replaced or lost their creative directors. If you zoom out a few more months, you can add Supreme, Gucci, Chloé, Bally and Ann Demeulemeester to that list.
The fact that brands replace their creative directors isn’t news. But it’s undeniable that a significant number of luxury brands are finding themselves between creative leadership, often bringing in little-known names like Stefano Gallici, who’s been at Ann Demeulemeester since June. According to Javier Lastra, a luxury investor and manager of the Tema luxury ETF investment fund, it’s no coincidence that these changes are all happening at once, nor that they’re happening in the middle of a major luxury slowdown.
“We’re going through a major slowdown in the industry right now,” Lastra said. “There was unbelievable growth during the roaring Covid years, and now these brands are under pressure to maintain these levels of sales — maybe not double-digit growth, but they want to keep growing. Sometimes, the only way to do that is to reinvent yourself, to find something new — a new line, a new style. The changes in creative direction are driven by financial pressures.”
Brands are increasingly leaning on new creative directors to help jumpstart their flagging sales. A fresh perspective can sometimes shock a brand back into growth, the way that designers like Alessandro Michele did for Gucci when he took over as creative director in 2015.
For its part, Kering saw its sales decline 9% in the last quarter, even more than the expected 6% decline that analysts had predicted. Gucci, which makes up more than half of Kering’s sales, saw its sales fall by 7%. Meanwhile, Burberry’s growth slowed from 18% to just 1% in the same quarter. Both Gucci and Burberry showed debut collections from new creative directors this year — Daniel Lee at Burberry in February and Sabato de Sarno at Gucci in September.
And it’s notable that both brands’ former creative directors — Ricardo Tisci at Burberry and Alessandro Michele at Gucci — were known for their maximalist designs while their new directors have taken the brands in subtler directions.
“When the economy becomes difficult, big logos and loud clothing are less desirable,” Lastra said. “Gucci is a great example. Michele was very successful for them and they’re still benefiting from him, but that style is out and they needed a change. So it’s not just financial pressure, but it’s also trend changes that are causing brands to look for new inspiration.”
A new creative director, then, is an opportunity for brands to move in a new direction and respond quickly to changes in the market. It’s easier to find a new creative director with the right style than it is for a creative director to change their style.
When Melissa LeFere-Cobb, the division head of womenswear brand Hervé Léger, began looking for a new creative director for the brand earlier this year, she knew she wanted a fresh approach compared to former creative director Christian Juul Nielsen. She eventually landed on Michelle Ochs, designer and founder of the womenswear brand Et Ochs, to take over the position in June. Ochs’s first collection at Hervé Léger is hitting stores in February.
“It was time to take Hervé Léger to the next level, and I felt strongly that a female creative director was the right move for the brand,” LeFere-Cobb said. “A fresh perspective and feminine touch were crucial to evolve the brand’s identity while addressing the underrepresentation of female leadership in the fashion industry.”
There’s also the fact that creative directors can be a selling point themselves. Pharrell Williams’s appointment at Louis Vuitton in February, despite his pedigree in fashion, was widely seen as being motivated at least as much by his celebrity and star power as his design acumen.
Both elements — wanting a fresh start and to benefit from a big-name director — motivated the decision by American luxury outerwear brand Woolrich to appoint Todd Snyder as its new creative director in November. Snyder joined the brand as creative director of Woolrich Black Label and immediately debuted two collections for the brand that were focused on heritage and luxury materials. Snyder is still creative director at his 12-year-old namesake brand, where he’s twice been nominated for the CFDA Awards Menswear Designer of the Year award.
Andrea Cané, Woolrich’s longtime creative director who took on the role of creative advisor when Snyder was hired, said Snyder provided an opportunity for the brand to have a fresh start with a new focus on premium products.
A refocus on higher-net-worth customers has been another popular tactic among brands in recent months due to inflation hitting aspirational shoppers the hardest. Woolrich has been on that path for over a year now, having launched on luxury platforms Farfetch and 24S last year. Cané said he’s confident that Snyder can help push the brand in an elevated new direction.
“I have known Todd for years, and I believe he is one of the best American designers who understands the true meaning of authenticity in design matrices, materials and taste.” Cané said in an email.
And while bringing in an established creative director like Snyder may work to revitalize a brand or give it a fresh start, there are downsides to frequently changing directors. Lastra said investors, especially in luxury, are wary of brands that try to shake things up too much. That’s particularly true when the aspirational customers that make up a significant part of luxury brands’ audiences are pulling back on their discretionary spending.
“Investors are risk averse,” he said. “Often that clashes with some of the most talented creative directors who want to take risks and try new things. And people like Michele were successful in hindsight. But frankly, I’d rather see something that’s growing steadily and safely, even at just a single-digit percentage. Money is scared. It flies away when it sees volatility.”