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Is Fashion All the Same Now?

When big brands constantly swap designers, what happens to the clothes?

Models wearing rainbow clothing cheer and clap.
Models backstage at Christopher Bailey’s final Burberry show.
Photo: Burberry

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It’s become increasingly clear that we’re in the middle of a great aesthetic flattening. No matter where you shop for clothing, everything looks the same.

Thanks to the stranglehold that Instagram, that beautiful black hole, has on the creation and consumption of images, trends blossom simultaneously and spread rapidly, one on top of another. The idea of certain styles being “in” or “out” was never particularly helpful, and now it’s practically obsolete. Chokers and deconstructed shirts erupt across fast-fashion sites almost as soon as you’ve registered their existence. Lifestyle startups are nearing a branding singularity. Kinfolk’s minimalist vision of bougie living is everywhere you turn.

The high-fashion circuit is no different.

Early this morning, Burberry announced that it has hired a new creative lead: Riccardo Tisci, former designer of Givenchy and friend of the Kardashian-Wests. For the last 17 years, Burberry has entrusted its creative direction to Christopher Bailey, who took a stagnant British heritage brand known for its khaki trench coats and check scarves and turned it into a symbol of everything cool and tasteful and English. Tisci’s work has been described as “dark, sensual and subversive” — essentially the opposite of a Burberry collection — and in the 12 years he spent at Givenchy, he created haunting embroidered gowns and vicious-looking Rottweiler sweatshirts.

It should seem like an odd pairing, but in light of recent changes in the fashion business, it’s really not. Luxury brands have been swapping designers incessantly over the last few years, and Burberry is just the latest company to install a big name at its helm, irrespective of his synergy with the house’s signature aesthetic.

In January, Céline hired former Saint Laurent designer Hedi Slimane to replace its outgoing creative lead, Phoebe Philo, a beloved figure for her subtle, elegant, and wearable clothing for adult women. A rock ’n’ roll devotee, Slimane is known for making babydoll dresses (late-Gossip Girl Jenny Humphrey would love them) and skinny, skinny suiting. He also made a ton of money for Kering, Saint Laurent’s parent company. At Céline, he’s already working on adding fragrances and menswear.

Beyonce wears a sheer gown embellished with crystals. She turns to face the cameras while a man fixes her train.
Beyoncé wears Givenchy on the 2015 Met Gala red carpet.
Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Burberry has been struggling to entice shoppers lately, thanks to a downturn in luxury spending overall and reduced tourist spending. Bailey won the loyalty of British celebrities like Cara Delevingne and Alexa Chung, but Tisci has Kanye and Kim, who chose Givenchy Haute Couture for her wedding dress. Beyoncé wore Tisci’s designs to five straight Met Galas.

Tisci may very well do great things at Burberry, and post-Brexit, an Italian designer with a French professional pedigree is an intriguing choice for a quintessentially British fashion house. Creatives generally tailor their personal preferences to their employer’s history and prevailing look, but brands also hire big-name designers for their signature style. As aesthetics mix and remix, driven by a high churn rate among fashion executives, you have to wonder whether the clothes will head toward some kind of middle ground.

It’s safe to assume that as soon as Tisci unveils his first creations for Burberry, Kim Kardashian will be beaming it across the internet to her millions of followers. That’s why it matters what he does when he arrives there. For the time being, we just have to wait and see. A fresh perspective can jolt the entire fashion industry, as when a virtual nobody named Alessandro Michele became the lead designer of Gucci in 2015 and made the whole world a little more embellished, glittering, and weird. (You can find the influence of Michele’s floral suits and satin bomber jackets at brands like Zara and Forever 21.) Clare Waight Keller’s early work as Tisci’s replacement at Givenchy made critics look at her in a totally different, and positive, light.

Change is good. But the sameness that could come with it would be a bummer.