Reuters takes a moment to remind us that some of the world’s most famous and successful designers living today are (gasp) in their 70s. Ralph Lauren is 70; Giorgio Armani is 75; Karl Lagerfeld is 76. So shouldn’t they be retiring and enjoying the golden years on their yachts and private islands, writing books and breeding rare dogs? And shouldn’t they be preparing their teams for their departure? Yes and yes, but a fashion label is a very personal thing that’s hard to give up. Would you just want to pass off your Facebook page to someone else after those years and years of updates and tagging and friending, having tailored it perfectly to your vision? Of course not. Someone could ruin it.
There are many examples of this in fashion, such as Emanuel Ungaro, which has struggled to find its footing since its founder departed. Or Gianfranco Ferré, which, though now back on its feet with designers Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi, suffered an embarrassing fall 2008 season when Lars Nilsson was fired just days before the runway show. Tom Ford still talks about how miserable he was at Yves St. Laurent when he took over in 1999 and the label’s founder complained that he didn’t respect his vision (Ford is not mentioned in the corporate-history section of YSL’s site, despite spending four years there).
Fear of similar situations isn’t all that keeps designers from retiring:
“Few people are able to let go … Sometimes, it is just out of vanity,” said Jean-Jacques Picart, fashion adviser to Bernard Arnault, head of the world’s biggest luxury group LVMH (LVMH.PA), referring to long-standing founding designers.
Lauren, de la Renta, and Armani won’t say a word about who could possibly replace them. If they did, their label would be associated with another name, perhaps resulting in a distasteful fame-sharing situation. Chanel offered this:
“Karl Lagerfeld is the creative director of Chanel and enjoys a long-term contract which is absolutely not put into question,” the fashion house told Reuters in an e-mailed statement. “His succession is not on the agenda.”
Lagerfeld has said he’s against retiring and plans to work forever, which may be possible since he might not be human.
However, other people close to the maison say it is inconceivable that Chanel is not thinking about his succession.
Most fashion houses have several candidates in mind for the day when their top designer leaves but they keep the name secret to prevent their potential new recruit from being poached.
We don’t like the idea of Chanel without Karl. Who wants to buy Chanel designed by some hot young thing? Not us. Not like we buy it, because we blog for a living, but still.