After just 15 months and two collections, designer Bouchra Jarrar is said to be leaving her post as Lanvin’s creative director. In 2015, Jarrar took over from former designer Alber Elbaz, who was unceremoniously ousted from the brand.
It’s become an all too common narrative within the luxury industry. A struggling fashion house hires a high-profile designer, who is then burdened with pressure to turn business around, more or less immediately. When that fails materialize over the course of two or three seasons, the creative director leaves the company.
As Jarrar exits Lanvin — which posted losses of $11 million in 2016, with revenue dipping below $200 million — the revolving door of creative directors shows no indication that it’s slowing down.
“Everyone’s trying to fix problems in a period of six months, and it doesn’t happen that way. You need time to evolve a brand and turn things around and that can take years,” said Rony Zeidan, founder of the agency RO NY. “Alber Elbaz was synonymous with the Lanvin brand, sales have dropped and there are a lot of unknown factors. But there’s a need to move quicker in turning around a brand and generating positive results.”
Zeidan pointed out that the luxury industry is struggling, but it’s not for lack of creativity. It’s the business side that has been thrown into a state of uncertainty, as the way things were done for decades has been dismantled. The pressure is bearing down on brands from all angles: Fast fashion retailers like Zara and Topshop are ripping designs directly from the runway and selling them immediately, while social media has given the public an unprecedented vantage point to the newest collections that won’t go on sale for another six months. When it comes to distribution, brands are balancing wholesale brick-and-mortar, online marketplaces and their owned online and retail store channels.
To adjust, brands have begun optimizing for speed and a continuous flow of new collections for a constantly distracted customer: The two-season fashion calendar has sprawled to include six, sometimes more, collections per year.
Creative directors are being stretched thin in the process.
“Consumers want newness. Replacing your creative director is seen by many as a way to have a chance at this game,” said Luca Solca, the head of luxury goods at investment company Exane BNP Paribas.
This problem has been apparent since Elbaz left Lanvin in 2015, a move that was attributed to disagreements with the business side of the company — and it’s persisted, as industry pressures have not let up. More and more, a positive, balanced relationship between the CEO and the creative director is critical to the creative director’s success at the brand, but the more weight is put on the creative director to right ship soon after joining the brand, the harder it is for them to actually perform.
“Overall, the expectations that business executives have on creative directors is overshadowing the reality of how a business actually grows,” said Zeidan. “The balance needed is two equal individuals, one on the creative side and one on the business side, and they have to trust each other. Then you need to build cachet and appeal.”
A lack of trust and balance between luxury brands’ creative houses and business management has been bubbling. In March, Jarrar told the South China Morning Post that she was under pressure at Lanvin, stating, “I need the whole house’s support; alone, it’s impossible.” When Raf Simons left Dior in 2015, he spoke to the burnout he felt thanks to increasing demands to produce more from the business side of the company.
Most recently, Lucinda Chambers — the former fashion director of British Vogue, who gave a candid interview to Vestoj this week that took the industry to task — said that when designer Paulo Melim Andersson joined as the creative director of Chloé, he wasn’t given the support he needed to succeed.
“If you want good results, you have to support people,” Chambers said. “You don’t get the best out of anyone by making them feel insecure or nervous. Ultimately, that way of treating people is only about control.”
Conversely, when a designer and CEO relationship works, the brand has been shown to succeed. Kering attributed the success of Gucci to the collaboration of creative director Alessandro Michele and CEO Marco Bizzarri.
“The most likely model of success is when you have a strong creative director and a strong CEO,” said Solca. “Think Gucci today. Designers need time and space to provide a fresh set of ideas, and they can’t do that without the proper support.”