Or as we most often refer to this as designers leaving and new ones being hired. This seems to happen more and more often. New young talent is hired for a stalwart older firm like Calvin Klein, or Gucci, or Hermes or one of those old venerable houses. But in a couple of years those new, young designers are gone. What in the world happens on these things.
The one that famously comes to mind is when John Galliano seemingly lost his mind and uttered a very big no-no-word, and was promptly fired. Here is a designer theoretically at the top of the designing world, heralded with each show as out-doing himself over and over with the bean-counters at Dior reaping in the rewards. Now, remember this is couture. As couture, it’s not like the rest of the world. It’s rather a playful and fun take on design. But couture is also some of the main reason a designer gets publicity and Galliano did that with not only outlandish type design but good bones. All these garments are made meticulously well, which means that they are constructed beautifully, with great care, and as durable as the designs will allow them to be. Additionally, they have an originality to them that RTW, can not hope to match. Even at that, when you look at these garments, they really aren’t that fantastical. Red riding type jacket with a white blouse and tartan skirt – pretty traditional actually. Pink topped ball gown with the absolutely most correct wine color that doesn’t take away anything from the pink, at the same time doesn’t get drowned out with the pink. You have NO idea how hard it is to manipulate red from one intensity like pink to the other side of the intensity scale into that wine color. This was masterfully done. As if that wasn’t enough….the tailoring of the middle garment and the draping of the left ball gown, he does the little frilly garden dress again with masterful touches of draping and originality. In these 3 simple examples, there are countless hours of creative expertise on display.
So now let’s step into the world of a high-placed designer. He/She naturally wants to be successful, but there’s a price to pay after that success. What do you do to surmount that success that you have discovered? What happens if you are a one-collection wonder and never have another collection or design that is as good? Who’s (especially you) to know if you have the creative wherewithal to make another collection as good? So you have no other choice other than to design again…..and again…..and again. The only difference is that the house business people who have hired you demand more better, and more fantastical, and more elegant, and more outrageous (but of course not too outrageous) designs each collection. So the pressure is not only on from within yourself (can I really do this again?) but also from without (the business people saying – “You must do a better collection next season!”)
So the designer does another collection and then another and then another, and each one is full of the same sort of original and creative designs garnering more and more good press for the design house and therefore the hungry little bean counters are happy but wanting more and more and more. This is not a good environment in which to design and it’s certainly not a creative environment that calls the muse. This is almost a fault of the major design house than it is anything else. The business people can’t help themselves and it is what they are hired to do – to keep an eye on the bottom line to make sure the house is financially sound. And there has always been a rub between the business side of running a design house and the creative side. The truth is that a good solid design house cannot be successful without both, but it’s also true that the design house can fall because one or the other becomes more important.
But back to the poor designer. In the case of the House of Dior and Galliano, he did not do well in this environment and as a result, resorted to drugs. This seems to be the same old story that we hear so often, but as often as we hear it, doesn’t seem to stop it from happening, and in the case of Galliano, it didn’t stop him, and in one fitful rage tore into a person who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and he was the better for the drugs and spoke abominably and was rightly fired. There is a wonderful movie out, The House of Z, about the amazingly talented Zac Posen and the same sort of path – a meteoric rise, an equally meteoric fall, with an understanding of himself better than before and at ease with himself that he should manage his own house, and as a result be in charge of how well or poorly he does in his business. It explains the path that designers inevitably must take in order to be in a good place with their ability. Probably John Galliano is in a better place now that he is sober and once again designing and he most likely had to go through the eye of the needle to discover he truly is talented enough to design for a major house even under the pressure of bean counters.
In the meantime, the house of Dior has been a flowing conduit of designers going in and out of the venerable house which does nothing to increase any value and certainly no good press comes from this. And Maison Margelia. But to the detriment of all of us, most of the press and certainly most consumers missed one of the finest of Galliano’s shows in 2011 when he did his Spring/Summer RTW show under his own name. It was as important as Marc Jacob’s 1991 show at Perry Ellis.
But because of all the media coverage around Galliano’s extra-curricular activity, the whole show was missed. It was a beautiful show and the beauty was only surpassed by its importance. The new silhouette was the waisted silhouette, and as all designers do when they are completely changing the whole look into a new trend, it is exaggerated, as Galliano did in this silhouette. The photo on the right is my homage to Galliano.
And back to the schedule at Dior for Galliano – he has approximately 30 new outfits per show at Dior, and there are about six shows per year: Fall Couture, Fall RTW, Resort, Spring Couture, Spring RTW, and Pre-Fall. Each collection has to be better than the last. Each collection has to be more spectacular and garner more press and more positive talk, and on and on and on. That’s 180 original, spectacular, well-crafted, well-designed, better than ever designs EVERY YEAR. That’s a huge amount of pressure. I don’t know about you but I’m doing good to get about 15 gowns per year and it’s not really as much due to lack of imagination as much as it is in making sure they are executed correctly for my standards and for my clients’ standards. I can’t even imagine coming up with 180 designs per year, but also they have to be so much better than the collection or design before. It’s literally impossible to keep up. It was truly only a matter of time before the whole ball of wax exploded and it did.
Fortunately, what comes with age is wisdom and wisdom has come to Galliano. He no longer needs to be out and about and part of the extra-curricular goings on. He has enough courage and wisdom to know that he can design and design well, and simply do that without having to worry about carrying on a persona that may or may not necessarily be what he really is. It takes a huge fall and a huge lot of guts to do that, and today Galliano is designing more edge beautiful clothes like before with lots of room for inspiration.
Some designers survive the wringer of working for one of the major houses and some don’t. In the meantime, these houses will keep hiring young designers. As these young designers have watched those before them a lot of them aren’t looking or even wanting the pressure of working for a large maison, no matter how alluring the name or the salary. That’s why many of the younger designers are starting their own houses, much like Zac Posen where they can put on as many or as few shows as they prefer. They don’t try to over-tax themselves or put extra pressure on themselves, but only to make the work they love to make.
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