Are some creative directors simply synonymous with the brands they head? Can the brand have life after them and can indeed they have life after the brand?
With the departure of Phoebe Philo from her post as creative director of Celine we began to ponder the creative director effect and whether it is a good or bad thing? Philo is all many fashionistas have ever known of Celine, and we wonder whether and who will continue to be a buyer. Indeed, this is a question the execs at the French fashion house must be asking themselves with the appointment of Hedi Slimane to succeed Philo.
Certainly, this is not a new dilemma. Celine, Chanel, Chloe, Saint Laurent… and so on… all have survived the departure (or demise) of the creator namesake. Not without bumps and bruises, of course, but some of the brands (like Chanel) probably are stronger than ever.
Whether we realize it or not, we quite often have a proclivity to certain creative directors of our brands. Readers often comment that they have just “gone off Gucci” or that they are “really loving Dior recently”; this fluctuation we sometimes feel with brands often correlates to the creative director at the time. It’s not just their designs, but their vision, interpretation and presentation of their brands, as well as the advertising and buzz they engender.
Few have managed to do what Philo has done at Celine. She has been with Celine for 10 years and will leave after the autumn/winter 2018 presentation. Philo took over from Stella McCartney as creative director of Chloe in 2001, resigning from her role at Chloe in 2006 to take a career break, before quietly returning two years later to a creative director role at LVMH’s Celine. Philo needed Celine and Celine needed Philo. This relationship between brand and creative director was quiet and unassuming, a true and natural harmony which rarely exists in the fast-paced fashion world. This journey took Celine from a blank canvas brand to a brand synonymous with effortless, elegant and edgy style (remember the flares?!), coveted by people all over the world.
Severine Merle, an LVMH stalwart was announced as CEO of Celine in 2017 so we know LVMH retains its talent. Where Philo is going, is there space at LVMH, no one knows, – but she leaves the fashion house at an all – time high with critical acclaim and soaring sales. More importantly, will Slimane continue the Philo’s vibe or take Celine in a different direction? With Celine sales recently going on line with 24 Sevres (Louis Vuitton’s multi brand digital initiative), a designer could win or lose big. And, as for Philo, while she has had success revamping brand, can she take creative directorship of a brand which already has a strong identity? A Dior, for example?
We cannot talk about brands that represent the very being of their creative directors without considering Gucci and Alessandro Michele. Michele took the helm after the abrupt departure of Frida Giannini (who left with her partner, the then CEO of Gucci Patrizio di Marco). Although Gucci has certainly been a fashion powerhouse for decades, it hit a new level of popularity in 2016, with the first collections by Michele. The appointment of Michele itself is an interesting story. Apparently, Michele’s name was not even on the list of potential preferred high industry talents to take over the coveted role at Gucci. Yet, Marco Bizzarri, Di Marco’s replacement, made the (some would say brave) decision to instead pick Michele, who was at that point one of the army of backstage designers at Gucci. It is said Bizzarri went to Michele’s apartment for what turned out to be an hours long discussion on Gucci and where it should go, and it would seem Bizarri felt Michele was the talent to take it there. Of his decision Bizzarri said “I thought, Why should I look for someone else when he can translate the heritage—and when the values of Gucci are in his veins?”
This is what makes us want a brand. We may not all be fashion/art experts, we may not know what the shape of the bag or hardware design represents, but we know it stands for something. The person who adds those details and adds those stories is the person who, in the words of Bizzarri, has that blood running through their veins. Of course, some brands are so steeped in heritage that they may be less affected by their creative directors, such as Chanel and Hermes, but with almost any other fashion house the creative director can make the brand something we all want in our closets!
On that note, what happens to Chanel once Lagerfeld has left… is another discussion entirely.
Will you continue to buy Celine? Let us know in the comments.
Updated: March 16th, 2018