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Behind the fashion designer dismissals

Raf Simons, Alber Elbaz, Riccardo Tisci and more weigh in on designer burnouts

By Andrea Tim | Published: 9 Nov 2015

Designer dismissals
Alber Elbaz (Photo: TPG Images)

Designers come and go in fashion, but when it happens at a rapid pace, you take notice, as do other designers, who are subject to the cut every now and then (unless you're Karl Lagerfeld, whose contracts with Fendi and Chanel are for life).

This year, Balenciaga, Lanvin and Dior shocked all with surprise departures of their respective creatives. Alexander Wang had only been at Balenciaga for less than three years; Alber Elbaz's stellar 14-year career at Lanvin was abruptly ended by a majority shareholder's decision; Raf Simons's exit from Dior after three short years was reportedly due to a failure to agree on a new employment contract.

The most-asked question at a time rife with designer shifts: "Why?"

According to some, it's because of an inevitable burnout, brought on by a ruthless industry that constantly demands for more in less time. To others, it's a matter of choice, whether or not a designer's career lasts at a fashion house. Here are thoughts from a few designers, including those involved in the recent dismissals.

1. There is not enough time.
"When you do six shows a year, there's not enough time for the whole process," Raf told Business of Fashion. "You have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important. When you try an idea, you look at it and think, hmm, let's put it away for a week and think about it later. But that's never possible when you have only one team working on all the collections."

2. A designer's system could work technically, but not emotionally.
"Technically speaking, it works," Raf added to BoF, referring to how his work system at Dior functioned even under immense pressure. "Does it work for me emotionally? No, because I'm not the kind of person who likes to do things so fast. I think if I had more time, I would reject more things, and bring other ideas or concepts in."

3. Designers are constantly pressured.
"Demands that are being put on the designers to deliver earlier and earlier," Thakoon Panichgul told Fashionista.

4. Designers often face a dilemma.
Canadian designer Jeremy Laing left the industry (perhaps temporarily) last year, citing his disillusionment as his reason. He told The Globe and Mail: "What comes first: an idea or the fact that you have to sell something? And what becomes your most important impulse: that you like your ideas or that you have to sell something?"

5. Sometimes, it all boils down to the designer's choice.
Riccardo Tisci, who has been creative director of Givenchy since 2005, told Fashionista: "I decide that I need breaks, I need to travel, I need to go to clubs, I love music, I love meeting new friends. I think we deserve it because we're working so hard and it's a job under so much pressure. That was my decision to be more balanced."

6. Technology has changed fashion.
"When I came out after the show, I felt that there was no clapping," Alber recalled during his speech at Fashion Group International's Night of Stars last month. "And I asked, 'What's going going on?' And they said, "They are filming, they don't have two hands, so what can they do?" (You should read his full speech, while you're at it.)

7. Fashion has become about looking good in pictures rather than in real life.
"What do women want?" Alber asked in the same speech. "That is what we used to do. Then we became 'creative directors,' so have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, creating a buzz, making sure that it looks good in the pictures... It seems to me sometimes that it's almost more important that the dress looks good in the photos than it looks good on the body, or feels good on the body."

We take into consideration that, based on studies from Microsoft Corp., the average human attention span decreased from 12 seconds (in 2000) to 8 seconds (shorter than that of a goldfish) in Canada. Sure, the study only accounts for the Canadian population, but can we really be surprised if we find that this also reflects our attitude towards fashion in the digital age and in extension, affects the way designers approach their work?


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