Sep 20, 2019 | By Athena Chen
If you’ve ever flicked through the American glossy celebrity weekly magazine US Weekly, you will have seen the section called ‘Stars! They’re Just Like Us‘. The popular weekly segment looks at the way celebrities are like ‘normal people’, see: they lose their cellphones too, they get weekly manicures, they leave the gym looking sweaty.
It’s a bizarre comparison, but I thought about this as the headline broke today: Riccardo Tisci Leaves Givenchy. After 12 years designing at the luxury house, the artistic director and designer who is famed for turning around the fortunes of Givenchy, is leaving, with the rumour mill suggesting he’s headed to Versace.
His departure joins the other fashion news this year that Clare Waight Keller is departing Chloe, showing that fashion’s musical chairs are in motion again just before the global womenswear fashion catwalks begin. This same cycle happened around the fashion week catwalks in October 2015, when Alexander Wang left Balenciaga, Donna Karen left her namesake label, Raf Simons left Dior, and Albert Elbaz ‘left’ Lanvin.
And each time this happens the fashion world looks aghast. How could they leave? What does it mean? Where are they headed? What now, for the future of the label? etc.
But I’m starting to wonder where this furor and fuss around the news, stems from? Of course each time a designer leaves it means changes and temporarily impacts the economic strength of the brand, but that generally bounces back once a successor is announced. Yet, our obsession with the news cycle around fashion’s top jobs, feels as if it goes deeper than that, and I think the answer lies in the history of fashion.
Fashion houses became synonymous with their larger-than-life designer personalities, in Paris this was Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. Within US fashion, it was Halston who trailblazed the idea of the designer as the celebrity, he lived for being snapped with his celebrities as they danced in Studio 54 rocking his fashion.
And of course fast forward to today and we have actual celebrity designers from Victoria Beckham to the Olsen Twins at The Row, to the more controversial Kanye West.
Fashion writer Teri Agins comments on this in her book which chronicles How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers siting the importance of Michael Jordan and Nike, as well as Jessica Simpson and The Row’s well tailored basics, a fashion line that was made possible because of the fact that the twins had made so much in the entertainment business to launch this. These lines prove that the cult of the celebrity resonates with the consumer. The consumer wants the celebrity’s lifestyle or to know about every intricate detail of it, which is why they wanted to be P Diddy in his high end streetwear in the late 90s, and they want to Victoria Beckham in her well constructed, modern, beautiful dresses now.
Me in the office back in ’94 #tbt #BADBOY4LIFE A photo posted by DIDDY (@diddy) on
And before the consumer became enamoured with the cult of celebrity they wanted to know what the designer was up to. In her book, former Harper’s Bazaar editor Kate Betts, recalls her time in Paris working for WWD. At the time everyone wanted to know about the designers in Paris, what they were up to, what scandal was happening, and simultaneously what magic was appearing on the runway.
“Paris was buzzing with stories of Saint Laurent’s breakdowns, drug overdoses and hospitalizations” comments Betts in her book, while in the same chapter noting “Saint Laurent was a brilliant storyteller with a soaring imagination…Fashion for Saint Laurent was about drama and theater; the runway was where he’d tell his story.”
But here’s the thing about designers, and celebrity, and celebrity designers, spoiler alert: they’re just like us. They burn out after years (or sometimes just three seasons) at the top, they consider their commute and the impact it’s having on their family, they are consumed with work life balance decisions at a time when the fashion cycle to produce has increased and the need to document every moment to feed the fashion fire (did you Snap from behind the screens, did you Insta-stories the front row, have you done a boomerang with the one of the models?) is at an all time high. They, like your friend on LinkedIn, are intrigued by job offers from competitors, they dream about designing for certain houses, transforming a look, creating their signature style and then trying to reinvigorate an old house with a softer, or tougher, or bolder aesthetic.
And so yes, while you might not be able to draw, and unlike Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing you didn’t take a selfie with Kim Kardashian last night; there are common hopes, and career goals and work ethics that we all share, even those in the current fashion headlines.
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