Designer Firings: A Silver Lining?
There’s another seat open at the designer fashion table. News broke today that Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi (above), creative directors of Gianfranco Ferré, are out at the Italian house (no word on their namesake collection, which presumably will continue for the present). Reports blame dwindling sales for the duo’s departure. But they’re only the latest in a string of designers who have left or been ousted from their positions at major European labels: Milan Vukmirovic at Trussardi 1911; Clare Waight Keller at Pringle of Scotland; Vanessa Seward at Azzaro. (Christophe Decarnin is out at Balmain, though under murkier circumstances; and of course, John Galliano has been let go from both Christian Dior and his namesake label. Although Chloé’s Hannah MacGibbon has been signed for another season, some industry observers are speculating that her time at the label is nearing a close—a speculation not necessarily refuted by the terse statements label CEO Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye has been giving the press.)
No one would argue that getting fired is fun. But it’s worth remembering that, in fashion at least, many of those who have been removed from their posts—either gently (with contracts not renewed) or not so gently—have gone on to bigger and better. The classic example is Yves Saint Laurent. The young designer took the top spot at Christian Dior when Dior himself died suddenly in 1957. Saint Laurent created a few headline-making shows, but soon after ran afoul of the management and was summarily dismissed. The result? His own label, founded in 1961. The rest, as they say, is history.
In more recent years, there’s the famous story of Marc Jacobs, fired from Perry Ellis after his seminal Spring ’93 grunge collection—too hot for the American label’s taste, but seen in retrospect as enduringly influential. (Patrick Robinson also got the axe at Perry Ellis before landing at another American sportswear legend: The Gap.) Both Peter Dundas and Giambattista Valli exited the house of Ungaro under dark clouds; today, their collections (for Emilio Pucci and for Valli’s namesake line) are among the most admired in fashion. Olivier Theyskens has gone from Rochas to Nina Ricci to current acclaim at Theory, and Alessandra Facchinetti, formerly of Gucci and Valentino, has found new life working on Tom Ford’s womenswear. As for Ford, he has seen both sides: famously losing his Gucci crown before starting his own empire, while also electing not to retain Alber Elbaz at YSL in the late nineties. “From every place or everything you do, you learn what to do and also you learn what not to do,” Elbaz told Style.com of the experience in an interview last year. “I would not change anything if you would ask me. I would still go through the experience I went through. I learned a lot from it. I went through a certain experience that wasn’t easy, but guess what? Nothing is easy anyway, so I’m fine with that.” As the creative director of Lanvin, Elbaz has brought the label back to relevance and racked up success after success; it may not be easy, but he sure makes it look that way.
What will the future hold for Aquilano and Rimondi, Decarnin, or even Galliano (whose own rather more complicated situation is discussed at length in WWD today)? Too soon to tell. Some will argue that in today’s economic climate opportunities will be fewer and corporate titans more inclined to pick low key, perhaps unknown designers. But to judge from the past, fashion is a merry go-round (or should that be rollercoaster?), and for some of these designers at least, it’s entirely possible that the best is yet to come.