Cleaning (Fashion) House

This story appears in the Pre-Spring 2014 issue of Eidé Magazine. Read it here, or click to read it in the issue below. 

Story by Jaime Lin Weinstein | Photography by Brianna Roth | Styling by Tian Justman


Blame it on Karl Lagerfeld, perhaps. The German-born designer revived the waning Chanel brand when he was hired as chief designer in 1983 and subsequently set the standard for old houses trying to reinvigorate their aging brands with new designers. “The label has an image. It is up to me to update it,” Lagerfeld told CNN of his work as head designer and creative director of the French fashion house, “... and go from what it was, what it should be, what it could be, what it had been, to something else. It sounds very complicated but, in fact, it is not.”

Indeed it’s a fine line to walk — breathing new life into a legendary house while respecting its history, reinventing while reinforcing the brand at the same time. And the latest crop of designers taking over fashion houses come with varying perspectives on their duty to honor the past, or challenge it.

Consider Carven, a French house that, like Chanel, is deeply rooted in the aesthetic of its female founder and was in desperate need of rebranding until 2009, when designer Guillaume Henry was appointed creative director. He looked to the attitude of the label’s creator — understated but chic, shy but sexy — to redefine the brand with a modern interpretation. Consequently, the company grew from a staff of five (including Henry) to more than 60, attracting fans from Beyoncé to Emma Stone. A token of his success could be his focus on the brand itself, rather than on himself. He has equated talking about fashion to talking about sports and citing that the importance lies in the team, not the player.

A recent takeover of the more contentious kind is that of Hedi Slimane — the French fashion designer replaced Stefano Pilati as the creative director of luxury fashion house Yves Saint Laurent in March of 2012. Slimane asserted his reign from the start with the (audacious) decision to change the name of the brand from YSL to SLP for Saint Laurent Paris (though the classic YSL logo has been retained for accessories and cosmetics). While a house like Coco Chanel’s is known simply as “Chanel” and Christian Dior is often branded sans Christian, the name change was, in a word, bold. Though some would argue that is exactly what Yves Saint Laurent always stood for — remember this is the house that pioneered pantsuits for women and first sent black models down its Parisian catwalk.

The mood toward Slimane has grown less hostile as the clothes are selling. It seems consumers are appreciating his vision for Saint Laurent’s future with pieces that are more than mere homage to the past — like his punk rock version of the classic YSL tuxedo jacket paired with black leather mini-skirts and skinny pants worn on the Spring 2014 Ready-to-Wear runway.

Christian Dior’s latest leader Raf Simons, on the other hand, seems to be steering clear of controversy (a smart move after John Galliano was fired for an alleged anti-Semitic tirade in February the year before his appointment). With a subtler take on redefining classics, Simons’ Spring 2014 collection updated the vintage Dior ball gown silhouette with brocades and metallic threads; the nipped-waist jackets with houndstooth shields at the breast.

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Then there’s Alexander Wang, the American fashion designer who was named creative director of Balenciaga in November of 2012 (following Nicolas Ghesquière’s departure after 15 years at the label). With a Spring collection that infused the house’s DNA (ovoid silhouettes with broadened shoulders) with the designer’s sporty/youthful style (cropped tees and woven leather), Wang proved he knows how to strike a balance between his own modernity and the legacy of a nearly century-old brand.

Ghesquière has left his own legacy with the brand: a lawsuit. Balenciaga is seeking $9.2 million in damages for comments the designer made in an interview published in System magazine that violated his separation agreement by hurting “the image of Balenciaga.” Among the quotes cited in the suit: “I began to feel as though I was being sucked dry, like they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenize things.” But while the Belgian designer’s career with Balenciaga may be over, his career in fashion certainly is not. Ghesquière will be designing for Louis Vuitton (he was made creative director in November last year after Marc Jacobs ended his 16-year long tenure with the brand). His first collection for the company will be shown at the Fall 2014 Paris Fashion Week.

Another designer to debut at the Fall Paris Fashion Week will be David Koma. The London-based Koma was announced to take over Thierry Mugler in December 2013, replacing Nicola Formichetti. (Formichetti had previously renamed the Parisian fashion house MUGLER after he took over as creative director in 2010. Looks like Slimane was not alone in his renaming decision.)

We can’t wait to see what’s in store from these accomplished designers as they breathe new life into some classic fashion labels, and what new takeovers 2014 will reveal. But it still leaves us with one question to ponder: Who could possibly take the helm of Chanel once Lagerfeld departs?