By Avril Groom,
The world is an uncertain place right now and fashion is no exception. Change is its lifeblood but most brands have a house style established by the founding designer. This DNA is seen as a precious asset, to be respected by creative successors and abandoned at commercial peril.
In the past, seasonal trends would be in luscious tweeds at Chanel, exquisite femininity at Dior and in sharp tailoring at Saint Laurent. No longer – except for Chanel. Karl Lagerfeld, who arrived in 1983, understood the uniqueness of the image that Coco Chanel had created and keeps her principles at its heart. Chanel remains one of the world’s most successful and widely recognised brands.
Today’s global market is everyone’s oyster and each luxury brand wants a part. Fashion’s great houses were founded by exceptional individuals who employed exceptional craftspeople. Haute couture, high jewellery and handmade bags retain a sense of luxury creativity, but is a mass-produced small leather accessory luxury simply because it bears a revered name? And should brands employ high-profile designers with strong creative images unless they are a good stylistic fit?
These are the dilemmas faced by houses when founders die or retire, and when they become part of less personal groups with a shareholder agenda. This leads to instability, as designers not reaching targets are replaced – a three-year contract is considered long – and brands’ sartorial images keep changing. This may not matter, as long as the designs make headlines, as for most, accessories and perfumes make far more money than expensive clothing.
There have been many headlines recently as designers play musical chairs. Few expected Peter Dundas to be ousted after three collections at Roberto Cavalli; he spent his formative years there and was a major hit at Pucci before returning to what seemed like his dream job. His ultra-luxe boho summer collection reflects the house DNA, yet next season’s design and direction are uncertain.