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2015 saw some major designer shakeups at some of the world's biggest fashion brands. Alexander Wang and Balenciaga ended their relationship; Alber Elbaz was booted from Lanvin, the brand he's practically synonymous with; and Frida Giannini was axed by Gucci, replaced in-house by Alessandro Michele. That's not to mention Donna Karan stepping down from her own brands, Raf Simons leaving Dior, Oscar de la Renta's first-ever successor, and so on, and so on.
Big changes weren't limited to just high-fashion runways. Mall brands including Gap, Banana Republic, J.Crew, and Madewell also saw shifts in their teams, the effects of which will trickle to the wardrobes of the masses. Below, we outline everything to know about all the big-deal designer shuffles in 2015.
On the Runway
What a drama from the Italians. Gucci announced in December that CEO Patrizio di Marco and creative director Frida Giannini (who are a couple and have a daughter together) would exit the brand, with Giannini staying on through its February 2015 fashion show. Things got sped up when Giannini was booted in early January less than a week before Gucci's men's show. Michele was quickly promoted from head accessories designer to creative director, completely retooling the men's show and showing a totally new direction for womenswear a month later.
By July, Gucci was able to boast that its sales were up (for the first time in two years), and in November, Michele received the International Designer Award at the British Fashion Awards for his resuscitation.
British fashion designer Peter Copping was named Oscar de la Renta's successor in October 2014, just before ODLR passed away at the age of 82. His debut collection for the brand walked in February 2015.
Norwegian designer Peter Dundas is named creative director of Roberto Cavalli, where he worked from 2002 to 2005. Since 2008, he'd been running the show at Pucci, which elected Italian designer Massimo Giorgetti to fill his vacancy. Giorgetti is the founder of the young, and well-liked, brand MSGM, where he will continue to design.
But that wasn't all the news for Karan this year. The iconic American designer stepped down as chief designer of Donna Karan International, electing to focus on her lifestyle brand Urban Zen. DKI, whose parent is LVMH, has since suspended Donna Karan Collection runway shows and future collections.
"Balenciaga and Alexander Wang today announce their joint decision not to renew their contract beyond its initial term." That's how Balenciaga announced the official parting-of-ways between the French luxury fashion house and the American designer who spent six seasons leading its vision. Wang showed his final collection for the brand on October 2nd, and a few days later it was announced that Damna Gvasalia of Vetements would fill the role.
October: Raf Simons announces he's leaving Dior; no replacement named
Possibly even more shocking than Wang's out at Balenciaga was Raf Simons announcing his departure from Christian Dior. "I have decided to leave my position as creative director of Christian Dior’s women’s collection," Simons said in a statement. "It is a decision based entirely and equally on my desire to focus on other interests in my life, including my own brand, and the passions that drive me outside my work." Work-life balance: so hot right now.
Dior is waiting to find the perfect fit to replace Simons, and plans to have the next two collections (men's in January and women's in March) be designed by an in-house team. Keeping it in the family, also so hot right now.
October: Alber Elbaz out at Lanvin; no replacement named
Some ugly in-fighting was revealed in Alber Elbaz's departure from Lanvin (read all about that here). The short version is that after 14 years as the brand's designer, Elbaz was asked to leave "on the decision of the company's majority shareholder," Lanvin owner Shaw-Lan Wang. No successor has been named, and Elbaz has quickly been rumored as a top choice for the Dior vacancy.
At the Mall
Gap hired Bay from COS in 2012, a sizable chunk of time after the May 2011 firing of Patrick Robinson. Like Robinson, Bay was brought on with the hope that she'd revive the brand. We were impressed with her debut collection in February 2014, but a press release from Gap in January 2015 stated, "in evaluating the right leadership structure for the brand, it would be eliminating the Creative Director role, resulting in Rebekka Bay’s departure from the company." In July, direct-to-consumer online brand Everlane announced they hired Bay, effective August 4th as creative director.
January: Gap Inc. closes Piperlime
Despite an August 2014 site relaunch, parent company Gap Inc. announced the closure of its multi-brand shop Piperlime, a slow drain that took until April to complete. No reason was given for the discontinuation of the site.
J.Crew laid of 125 people in June, including its head women's designer, Tom Mora. It filled that role with Sikhounmuong, who was previously leading design at J.Crew Group-owned Madewell. (His first collection for the significantly smaller, millennial-focused brand hit stores spring 2014. In that fiscal year, Madewell posted a 35% sales increase, while J.Crew grew just 4%.)
Madewell promoted Joyce Lee from a lead role on the accessories team to head of design. The promotion echoes what Gucci did with Alessandro Michele.
More bummer news from Gap Inc.: After just a year with BR, Webb "steps down" as creative director and executive vice president to a role as "creative advisor." Essentially, she still consults on Banana, but isn't in the day-to-day. The role of creative director was killed, just as it was at Gap at the beginning of the year.
Lingering Questions for 2016
Who will Lanvin's next creative director be? What will Alber Elbaz's next move be?
Who will Dior's next creative director be? What will Raf Simons put his extra time into?
Do mall brands need creative directors?
In light of Marc Jacobs leaving Louis Vuitton in 2013 and Wang and Simons ditching Balenciaga and Dior, respectively, this year: Does today's top design talent no long "need" historic Parisian brands?