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Why Is Every Big Designer Calling It Quits?

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That ended abruptly. Oscar de la Renta designer Peter Copping is already stepping down from his post as creative director, leaving one of America’s most storied fashion houses rudderless.

"After almost two years at Oscar de la Renta, personal circumstances require me to return to Europe," Copping said in a statement from the brand. "I have loved my time in New York where I hope to return at some point in the future."

This is the designer hand-picked by an aging Oscar de la Renta in October 2014 to carry on his legacy. Yet a little more than a year later, Copping is out the door at Oscar de la Renta — even more quickly than the fast departures of Hedi Slimane from Saint Laurent, Raf Simons from Dior, and Alexander Wang from Balenciaga.

Peter Copping at Oscar de la Renta bridal’s spring/summer 2017 show
Photo: Getty Images

Those names are just the tip of the iceberg for fashion’s version of musical chairs currently happening in rapid succession. The exits include designers that were at brands for years, like Alber Elbaz at Lanvin or Francisco Costa and Italo Zucchelli at Calvin Klein, and others who had very quick stints, like Copping or Danielle Sherman at Edun or Alessandra Facchinetti at Tod. Just yesterday, rumors floated that Nicolas Ghesquiere might be leaving Louis Vuitton after less than three years, although the company denied it.

Why does it seem like every fashion designer is such a job hopper lately?

As Lauren Sherman notes in Business of Fashion today, contracts are even changing to give designers an escape hatch at three years.

The pressure of churning out so many collections per year — from couture to resort to "pre-fall" and everything in between — can’t be discounted. It’s such a breakneck pace that some wonder if the fashion industry shouldn’t be doing more to protect designers’ mental health. Before Simons’s surprise exit from Dior in October 2015 for "personal reasons", he described his insanely packed schedule in an interview with fashion critic Cathy Horyn for System magazine.

"I have a schedule every day that begins at 10 in the morning and runs through the day, and every, every minute is filled," he said. "From 10:10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., it’s shoes, let’s say. From 10:30 to 11:15, it’s jewelry. Everything is timed — the whole week. If there’s a delay in a meeting, the whole day is fucked up."

There’s also the burden (or some might say privilege) of overseeing an entire brand, not just the clothes. For Slimane at Saint Laurent and Elbaz at Lanvin, the creative director gig often includes not only designing clothes and accessories, but overseeing advertising, store designs and "brand image."

There’s no room for creativity with a schedule packed like that, Simons lamented. Elbaz concurred at a talk he held this May. "Designers are not just machines where you press a button and say, 'Be creative!'" Elbaz said.

Much of that pressure to produce stems from our gnat-like attention spans as customers. We expect new merchandise in daily at Zara, after all, and with every refresh, we want to see new images pop up in our social media feeds.

"I think the speed at which the fashion industry is going is fundamentally what we expect of fashion today, as ultimately, this is the way the world works," Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson told Women’s Wear Daily in October 2015 (incidentally, he’s rumored to possibly take over at Louis Vuitton).

"It is about the chase against boredom. We have to adapt to the speed like we have had to adapt to other media," he said. "I think it is a sign of the times and it is not just fashion experiencing that; music, film and art are all experiencing this thing where we need to keep up with the pace of the world."

Louis Vuitton’s cruise extravaganza show in Brazil
Photo: Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images

Not only are designers responsible for making more and more product, they also now need to make every runway show Instagram-worthy. Everything they touch has to score a maximum number of likes or go viral as a shareable image.

"How can I make a woman more beautiful? That is what we used to do. Then we became ‘creative directors,’ so have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, creating a buzz, making sure that it looks good in the pictures. The screen has to scream, baby," Elbaz said in a speech in October right before his departure from Lanvin.

All that buzz has given rise to "see now, buy now," or in-season shopping, a concept that is shaking up the fashion calendar. Some brands are opting to have items available to sell immediately as soon as a show is over, while others might embargo images from a press preview until the items are in season and ready to sell. Both are attempts to solve for the problem of social media speeding up the fashion cycle, which in turn puts a strain on designers.

"Everyone is paying attention to the wrong thing in my opinion," Simons told the Telegraph in an interview in April. "There’s this huge debate about ‘Oh my God, should we sell the garments the day after the show or three days after the show or should we tweet it in this way or Instagram it in that way?’… You know, all that kind of bullshit. Will all that stuff still be relevant 30 years from now? I don’t think so."

Yet whether the clothes will last 30 years doesn’t change the present demands, from both demanding parent companies like LVMH and Kering and hungry, digital-savvy customers.

"The wholesale category is transforming, people’s methods of exploring brands have changed tremendously since the commonality of social media, and business globally is softening due to the uncertainties the world is facing. It simply is a daunting time," Rony Zeidan, founder and chief creative officer of fashion advertising and branding firm RO NY, told Racked via email.

"Some of the reasons could be creative existentialism, and others could be misaligned goals with management," he added. "But needless to say, this malaise that is happening in the industry might trigger a great transformation. It has yet to be revealed."

Raf Simons’s last runway appearance for Dior
Photo:

What’s already clear is how burnt out designers are getting. Alexander Wang eventually called it quits on living part-time in a Paris hotel room and subsisting on takeout while working for Balenciaga, fleeing back to his own brand in July 2015 after three years at the French fashion house.

Meanwhile, after deciding that Dior "in the end it was just too much for me", Simons has opted for a lower-key life too, one that includes buying a puppy named Luka and taking up passion projects like a menswear line and designing textiles.

But if the designer ends up proving rumors true and and taking the job of chief creative officer at Calvin Klein, he’ll only be entering another pressure cooker. Perhaps, then, he can affect change from the inside. It behooves the big companies to figure it out: A brand without a creative visionary can falter, and constantly changing designers costs big parent companies each time.

"What we should ask is will we have enough creative people who are strong enough and willing to do what is necessary right now to follow that madhouse," Simons told the Telegraph, adding, "My generation especially is shifting now… like me and Phoebe [Philo], Nicolas [Ghesquière] and Marc [Jacobs]. We’ve been around for 20 or more years. We know what fashion was and where it’s heading to. Now it’s a question of what we are willing to do and how we are going to do it."


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