Earlier this summer, Matthew Williams‘ was appointed Creative Director of the French fashion house of Givenchy. Shortly after the announcement, Quartz reported about a recent study published by the investment company Bernstein. The report states 'successful' creative directors of luxury fashion brands have an average five-year 'expiry date'. It’s a pattern that repeats itself, Ricardo Tisci for Burberry, Kim Jones for Dior, Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton, and the list goes on.
But why do fashion houses trade Creative Directors like Football Clubs trade managers?
Betting on the strong horse
According to Bernstein, after a five year stretch with any creative director, a company’s fortunes start to decline. This might explain why companies like Kering, LVMH, and Burberry are quick to replace their creative directors, regardless of critical success or output. But the underlying point is that the Creative Directors are not just a creative input, they're also a massive marketing strategy to boost sales and inject new PR value to the brand. Fashion brands and Football clubs are putting a lot of faith in a single individual to develop a new game plan for success instead of looking at the organization as a whole. Internal structures, assets, history, data, and other variables.
Why would any company or team bet all their money on one individual to make the difference? Especially if you are responsible for multiple aspects of the business — defining the public image of the brand, overseeing designs, sales, and directing the look and feel of your existing retail platforms. Is it even possible to do all these things?
During Raf Simons' first interview after leaving Calvin Klein, he said:
“These big brands are very much driven by marketing and growth, and it’s rare that a designer is good at both aspects. I am definitely not good at all the aspects. What is more important is that the designer knows who to work with, which is also not your choice, but it’s definitely your choice in your company.”
A fragile construction
Building a brand strategy around a single 'creative genius' is a fragile construction that doesn’t require much to buckle and collapse. In 2019, Virgil Abloh was advised by his doctors to take a break from work. According to Paper Magazine, his doctor explained that a lifestyle that included eight international flights(!) a week wasn’t sustainable and that he was pushing his body beyond its reasonable limits. Did Louis Vuitton have a backup plan for this?
Fashion brands need to build long term brand strategies to sustain brand equity and longevity. Fashion brands need to communicate with purpose, and take an active stance on social issues, satisfy consumer demands for radical transparency and sustainability. There are a lot of things high-end brands can learn about purpose-led communication from brands such as Nike, Patagonia, Veja, and many more. How they continuously respond back to their brand purpose in everything they do.