Why Designers Aren't Safe These Days

The Ferré shake-up: left, Lars Nilsson; right, the 6267 designers Photo: Getty Images

Over the past two years, major fashion houses have chewed through head designers like a small order of fries. One minute you're hot, and the next you're, well, gone. Take Ferré, where Lars Nilsson was ousted (and just replaced by the 6267 designers) before he even completed one collection. Isabel Toledo lasted only two seasons at Anne Klein. Paulo Melim Andersson completed only three collections for Chloé, where an assistant recently took his place. And Peter Dundas made only three collections for Emmanuel Ungaro, where Esteban Cortazar took his post. The common thread? Labels struggle to find designers who can at once revitalize an established brand and make commercially appealing clothes. The Times reports:

“The problem is that the talent pool is too young for some of these big positions,” said Kim Vernon, a luxury brand consultant. “They never learned how to be creative and design in a business.”

What concerns Ms. Vernon is that there are fewer seasoned designers than available positions. Ungaro, a company with $250 million in sales and numerous licenses to support, raised eyebrows when it replaced Mr. Dundas with Mr. Cortazar, a 23-year-old design prodigy. As Mounir Moufarrige, the chief executive of Ungaro, told Women’s Wear Daily at the time, “The brand has aged, and it needs buzz — and fast.”

But stories like Nilsson's are troubling: The designer said he complained to Ferré management if, say, the embroidery on the garments he designed didn't meet his standards. Could that have contributed to his dismissal? Perhaps fashion houses need to figure out a way to help designers grow on the job, rather than throwing them out like last season's shoe.

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