Raf Simons shocked the industry when he announced, in late November, plans to shutter his namesake label after 27 years. The Belgian designer, who launched his brand in 1995 before enjoying stints at Jil Sander, Dior, and Calvin Klein, proved to be a vitalizing force in menswear, consistently crafting youth-oriented collections by distilling underground influences into minimalist silhouettes that achieved cult status. Some speculated Simons made the move in anticipation of taking creative control of Italian stalwart Prada, which appointed him co-creative director alongside Miuccia Prada in early 2020. But despite stepping down as CEO of Prada Group in December, the longtime designer insists she’s not retiring anytime soon.
The surprise move capped a dynamic year of musical chairs for the industry, which continues to weather a maelstrom of departures and appointments. Alessandro Michele exited Gucci after eight years. Riccardo Tisci left Burberry after less than one year and was replaced by Daniel Lee, whose most recent tenure at Bottega Veneta involved deleting social media and launching an online magazine. Marco Gobbetti, CEO of Salvatore Ferragamo, announced a sweeping rebrand and appointed Maximilian Davis as creative director. (The 27-year-old dropped out of the LVMH Prize young designer contest to take the job.) On the acquisitions front, Tom Ford sold his brand to Estée Lauder for $2.8 billion, the luxury industry’s biggest deal of the year. Executive transitions at Chanel, McQueen, and Versace also made waves.
According to a recent study, half of the creative directors at roughly 40 houses have held their positions for five years or less. “Compared to other product-based industries like cars or furniture, there’s almost this fashionability of change in fashion. And when you change an artistic director, you change an entire team, most of the time,” Marco Pecorari, assistant professor of fashion studies at Parsons Paris, told WWD, likening the cyclical shifts to “brief interventions” rather than in-depth change. Applying a new creative director’s sensibilities to ready-to-wear, leather goods, accessories, and perfumes is nearly impossible in a short tenure, but brands also face pressure to run at an accelerated speed thanks to social media.
Benjamin Simmenauer, a professor at the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris, says money talks the most. “After a first contract, if the objectives are not met and above all, if there is no significant growth, generally the creative team is replaced,” he said, noting how brands view long-term collaborations more favorably. “[Brands] look for consistency and seem to be more and more risk-averse as they strive to reach a larger audience.”
The shakeup with the most potential to impact the industry, however, comes from none other than LVMH. The French luxury conglomerate recently named new CEOs at its two biggest houses in one of the group’s biggest executive reshuffles in recent memory. Pietro Beccari, the CEO of Christian Dior Couture, will succeed Michael Burke as CEO of Louis Vuitton. Taking Baccari’s reins at Dior is Surface cover star Delphine Arnault—the eldest child of LVMH’s CEO, Bernard—who is currently Louis Vuitton’s EVP for product, and manages the closely watched LVMH Prize. With the appointment of Bernard’s son, Antoine, as CEO of the financial holding company through which the family owns a controlling stake in LVMH, each of his children holds a major role in the group.
Nepo baby accusations aside, why now? A recession is looming, and brands that rode the pandemic’s e-commerce boom are making sure the right person is in charge. (This isn’t restricted to fashion—nearly 700 U.S. CEOs left their posts in the first half of 2022.) The executives who steered brands through pandemic upheaval may not be as well-equipped to tackle today’s tricky climate of snarled supply chains and record inflation, though both are on a downward slope. Entrepreneurs face murky waters as investors have shifted priorities to prospects with better margins, which is becoming difficult to attain as the digital landscape evolves. To prevent brands from suffering a similar fate as Sies Marjan and Zac Posen, which shuttered their labels amid turbulent financial markets, perhaps fresh blood is needed.