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Where design starts are made

Creative freedom or the art of viral marketing? Likes to produce or be productive in the studio? The creative tip of major fashion houses must face changing challenges and expectations, because the success of a designer is now also measured by the number of his Internet followers.
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Nicolas Ghesquière announces on Instagram on May 23, confirming that he will continue to be the creative director of the label's women's line, "Happy to renew my commitment to @louisvuitton #notgoinganywhere". On the same day, Louis Vuitton officially announces the contract renewal in a press release, putting an end to the ongoing rumors surrounding the designer's departure. Ghesquière's Social Media Announcement has a second, slightly more subtle effect that should not be neglected: with this 46,000-view post, Ghesquière provides evidence that the fashion industry is changing in public perception. His job no longer takes place with unapproachable divas behind the scenes in the ivory tower, but is now an all-encompassing activity, practiced by popular stars who produce dreams for a mass audience. And Nicolas Ghesquière really fits all the criteria of a celebrity with well-oiled self-promotion mechanisms: regular posts about befriended actresses, about his support for LGBT issues, and about his privacy, which he shares with his 700,000 followers every day. Social engagement, cultural affiliation, the relationship with the fans - this mix makes 2018 the contours between designer and celebrity out of focus. What is the place of creativity?

For Virgil Abloh is no longer a garment at the origin of what makes a brand or designer a star. "The product is only one of many elements of today's luxury narrative," says the self-taught artist, who is currently in charge of Louis Vuitton's men's line. With 2.6 million followers on Instagram and the cult of its Off-White brand, other factors are driving its online popularity. Abloh is known not only for his collaborations with, for example, Ikea, the Gagosian or Jimmy Choo art gallery, but also for his political and social conscience, and he became the darling of this dedicated, Insta-friendly fashion era. Also in the statements for his first collection for Vuitton is talk of migration and multiculturalism, the whole presents on a rainbow-colored catwalk, in the audience stars from the hip-hop scene: photogenic, prominent, dedicated. Everything fits together.

Ghesquière and Abloh are at the moment embodying the era of design superstars, figureheads of systemic change in the fashion world, where the collections are almost secondary and the designers themselves become pop stars.

Be his own brand
The cards are being reshuffled, a new generation of creative minds is announcing and refreshing the image of traditional fashion houses. A brief synopsis: After Kim Jones has brought a bit of sportswear vibe into the men's line of Louis Vuitton thanks to his collaboration with Supreme, he goes to Dior Homme as chief designer. There he follows Kris Van Assche, who in turn announces that he is moving to Berluti. Riccardo Tisci, formerly at the head of Givenchy, joins Burberry, Hedi Slimane sets to realize his global vision at Céline. At Chloé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi has been working with her French-intellectual touch since April 2017, and at Givenchy, Clare Waight Keller (formerly with Chloé) creates chic with English flair.

How did they all succeed if, as Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times puts it, a whole generation of legendary designers are unemployed? Consider Alber Elbaz, formerly at the helm of Lanvin, Stefano Pilati, previously Yves Saint Laurent and Ermenegildo Zegna, and Marco Zanini, ex Schiaparelli. What trumps do you have to hold in your hand to look promising for a label? How do you build a bridge between the bulimic, voyeuristic online world and the way luxury has been practiced so far, when shopping no longer requires real contact? "Nowadays, a designer needs to have a clear idea of ​​his branding. He has to become his own brand to succeed. His creations alone are no longer enough to make a name for themselves. The current generation has a 360 ° understanding of brand values ​​that are inseparable from their personal values, and masters them across all platforms and channels. They all need to bring real cultural points of view and a community and meet the spirit of the times, "said Sophie Conti, a consultant to the luxury industry in New York.

"Nowadays, a designer needs to have a clear idea of ​​his branding. He has to become his own brand to succeed. "Sophie Conti

Strategies from the streetwear
A look at the designated creative directors reveals a strategy that responds to the changing needs of global clientele. Riccardo Tisci, for example, set the tone right from the start by creating an authentic tribe that went beyond PR. He invited Vivienne Westwood to design a capsule collection for Burberry with him, effectively suggesting an emotional relationship between generations and icons. He had previously used this strategy for a Givenchy campaign in which Donatella Versace Model was allowed to play. Tisci also has a keen sense of millennial consumerism and streetwear-known drop practice: in addition to seasonal collections, new pieces and limited-edition series are announced in the middle of the year to generate demand, shortage and hype, a technique that mainly uses Supreme.

For Balenciaga - the fastest growing label in the Kering group according to "Business of Fashion" - the success is more due to the skillful creation of buzz rather than to the clothes themselves, whose cuts are very reminiscent of Margiela. The insane success of the pink plateau Crocs reveals a clientele with typical Internet humor ("lol"), which questions all the boundaries between chic and kitsch, luxury and street. Another success of Kering: Alessandro Michele continues his aesthetic revolution at Gucci.

Fendi, under the creative direction of Karl Lagerfeld, also decided to choose three faces far removed from Italian fashion culture for the latest campaign: Kim Kardashian, her mother Kris Jenner and her daughter North West. What came out? Several hundred thousand likes and a again contemporary, likeable, popular image.

In other cases, the solution is an all-round creative director rather than a mere designer, which rebrand the fashion house as well as the designer himself. When Raf Simons took over the creative direction of all lines at Calvin Klein, including jeans, he transferred his understanding of couture to the denim designs. For him, it rejuvenated in return and opened a new market for him. And not to forget Hedi Slimane, who, after joining Céline, said he wanted to launch a men's line and a couture collection and get the overall image back into their hands, including perfumes and cosmetics. Céline is one of the most radical examples of a brand image branded from A to Z.

The Instagram clauses
Even if the exact sums are confidential, the best-endowed contracts, according to sources ranging between about 8 and 15 million euros annually. The numbers are even higher when bonuses and sales percentages are added. This development suggests a lot: part of these deals is often an "Instagram clause" with the obligation to show yourself, the brand image and PR and celebrities in the right light. Thus, the designer is treated more like a talent or influencer, not just as a creative - also an indication that he is now somewhere between fashion designer and celebrity.

"Today, content creation has become crucial. Do you still need a creative director? What is actually required? "Asks Vanessa Friedman in the light of the fact that creative leadership is increasingly being given to people whose reputation exceeds their qualifications by far. A few examples of this trend: Isabella Burley, editor-in-chief of the magazine "Dazed & Confused", today Editor in Residence by Helmut Lang. Or the career of Justin O'Shea, the founder and chief purchaser of online store MyTheresa. com, who is now with Brioni. Not to mention the labels of Rihanna, Victoria Beckham and the Olsen twins.

The Anglo-Saxon press already sees us in an era of "fashion fandom", whether it's the #BalmainArmy by Olivier Rousteing, the Gosha gait by Gosha Rubchinskiy or the Supreme Girls. Today, designers and labels are simply stars with fans, triggering enthusiasm and hysteria through their very existence, such as Hollywood actors in their fifties or rock stars in their sixties.

Above all, luxury is a matter of experience, of tension, of desire. Where is the product? If it is no longer about belonging and desirability, then it is no longer relevant », says Sophie Conti. And that is exactly what this acclaimed, ever-attentive generation tells about the Instagram world in which she is at home.




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