Alessandro Michele

Alessandro Michele

At a press conference before his spring 2018 show in Milan, Alessandro Michele was asked why he has so captivated fashion. His answer: something of a “Beat’s me.” He supposed that he might just be the right guy at the right moment, and drew a comparison with Botticelli and Ghirlandaio, “two very famous painters of the Renaissance….One became kind of a phenomenon.” He called his instant fame, “something that belongs to the mystery about my job.”

There’s always a bit of a mystery to the arrival of a creative supernova that captivates the broader culture. But there are degrees of fascination, some resonating on a mostly emotional/psychological level and some, with trackable bottom line results. Put Michele in the latter camp. With his designs driving Gucci’s sales past the six-billion-euro mark in 2017, the designer has proven himself far more than a right guy/right time curiosity.

Perhaps because, unlike in the world of streetwear with its brashness and swagger that speak deliberately to the confident and uber cool (or those who aspire to such), Michele’s world, strange as it is, is actually more inclusive. In it, there’s room for the emotional wallflower, the nerd and the edgy artiste, but also for the girl or boy who fancies the classics in the manner of, say, a Chanel jacket and a Yankees cap.

Michele’s emergence from backroom collaborator to the pinnacle of fashion happened in an instant. The bold gentleness of his first show, men’s fall 2015, proved acutely prescient in stoking the rapidly strengthening movement toward gender fluidity and equality. He quickly adapted that mood to his women’s wear, and became the new standard for major-house designer hire as well as a prime source of inspiration for designers across the fashion landscape who’ve since churned out animal imagery, flamboyant prints, out-there combinations and gender-fluid takes of their own.

Michele has gone on record as wanting to keep to a strong signature that doesn’t depend on a wholesale change every season. But while we thought we knew his shtick, nothing prepared his show audience for a fall 2018 effort that opened with a girl carrying her head. It disturbed and thrilled in equal measure. Naturally, social media went wild.

Yet beyond being a master-crafter of startling, camera-ready visual imagery, Michele is a gifted designer of beautiful, interesting clothes. These are as compelling on the retail rack as in his show-venue bizarre operating room populated by his “post-human” models styled in often dizzyingly complicated getups. The power of Michele’s fashion stands up to and perhaps even exceeds the power of its hype bait. Ultimately, fashion needs that kind of movement to thrive. – Bridget Foley

 

Bernard Arnault

Bernard Arnault  Isa Harsin/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Bernard Arnault

If fashion lately resembles a game of chess, then Bernard Arnault is its grandmaster.

In the last six months, the chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has presided over a vast reshuffle in senior design and management posts – though in signature style, many of the appointments were made from within the group’s own ranks.

In the last few weeks alone, LVMH has unveiled the appointment of Kim Jones to Dior Homme; Virgil Abloh to design men’s wear for Louis Vuitton, and Kris Van Assche to take over at Berluti. Together with January’s announcement that Hedi Slimane would join Céline and lead the brand into men’s wear, couture and fragrance, it puts major muscle behind the group’s ready-to-wear ambitions.

Though regularly describing LVMH, the number-one ranked stock by market capitalization on France’s CAC 40 index, as fairly small by global standards, Arnault himself recently overtook Inditex’s Amancio Ortega as the richest man in fashion, with a total net worth of $71 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

For the record, that makes him the world’s fourth wealthiest man, behind Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Arnault still likes to picture himself as the scrappy businessman who bought the ailing house of Dior in 1984, laying the foundations for a luxury empire that now spans brands including Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Sephora, Guerlain, Moët & Chandon, Bulgari and Tag Heuer.

On Monday — the same day LVMH reported first-quarter sales leaped 10 percent — the executive attended the launch of the group’s accelerator program based at Paris start-up campus Station F. “We have a historic proximity to the start-up world,” he said. “It’s about creativity, innovation and new ideas.”

He pointed to the examples of Christian Dior, who started his label from scratch in 1947, and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty cosmetics line, which Arnault said was on track to reach sales of 500 million euros this year, following its launch last September.

Flanked by his daughter Delphine, executive vice president of Louis Vuitton and a member of the LVMH board, and his son Frédéric, head of connected technologies at Tag Heuer, Arnault tested innovations such as Memomi’s Memory Mirror, a digital mirror platform that allows customers to virtually try on products.

LVMH employees who have won awards on the group’s DARE LVMH intrapreneurship program, introduced last July, will also be invited to the space to develop their projects. One is said to involve the creation of a new LVMH brand — suggesting that Arnault still has plenty of moves up his sleeve. — Joelle Diderich

 

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney  Mary McCartney

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney is a rare fashion breed — a genuine iconoclast. And not because her clothes are wacky or she shows them in faraway dumps. As a young aspirant with a fancy personal pedigree and brief cv — Saint Martins grad; successful four-year tenure at Chloé — her dedication to building a fashion brand on her terms shook establishment rules and set her apart from much of the industry’s mainstream. When, in 2001, McCartney partnered with then-Gucci Group (now Kering), one of fashion’s most prolific suppliers of luxury leather goods, she established a template for brand control that was unusual in its 50/50 ownership structure and unique in its ironclad stipulation that it would be, in the parlance of the animal-rights world, cruelty-free — no animal-derived products at all.

As many industry eyes rolled and feathers ruffled, McCartney never wavered. Nor did she function on Fashion Fantasy Island. She knew that to build any kind of an accessories business she had to develop alternatives to leather, which led to working with numerous synthetics that in turn spiked her interest in lessening the environmental footprint of those synthetics, especially plastics.

Today, the industry that once perceived McCartney’s ideas as a fringe indulgence/irritant has come around big-time; barely a week goes by without a major brand declaring itself fur-free. Among the most high-profile: Versace, Michael Kors and McCartney’s Kering-stable relative (for now), Gucci. And sustainability has become a major industrywide focus, including at Kering, from which McCartney is in the process of emancipating herself.

Yet savvy designer-businesswoman that she is, McCartney knows that her primary job is not to proselytize but to make clothes and accessories that women, and as of 2016, men, covet and want to wear. Her adherence to an ethos of practical chic makes her brand one of a mere handful that women know they can rely on for great-looking clothes and accessories that make sense for their lives. McCartney’s grounded stance extends across categories. Case in point: her kid’s clothes — fabulously fun, functional and positioned approachably within the designer realm — no four-figure fairy princess spectacles here.

As for McCartney’s in-progress split from Kering, well-advised early on never to surrender a controlling interest in her name (it pays to have a high-powered entertainment lawyer for an uncle), she started her brand as an equal partner. Now, she’s buying back the group’s half-interest which, when completed, will make her a fully independent designer and brand — renegade status in an industry not generally conducive to independence. Bet on McCartney to pull it off — and prove once again that determined, earnest challenge of the status quo can prove fruitful. As McCartney told WWD last month, “We have established ourselves in the fashion world with a point of difference.” — B.F.

 

Instagram

Existential question: If it wasn’t on Instagram, did it even happen?

Fashion says no.

For more than half a decade now, Instagram continues to be the preferred social platform for the fashion industry — and never was that more apparent than during the fall 2018 collections season. When the platform was founded by Kevin Systrom in 2010, there was stiff competition on the social media front. Periscope, Vine and Snapchat vied for users and content creators. And while Snapchat is still standing — lest you ask Kylie Jenner, who decimated $1.3 billion in Snap’s value with a single tweet questioning its relevance in February — Instagram continues to be the first platform that designers, models, retailers and brands go to share their content.

This season’s so-called “Insta-candy” ran the gamut from an extraordinary front row sighting of HRH Queen Elizabeth II at the Richard Quinn show at London Fashion Week, to Gigi Hadid’s private shots from the Bottega Veneta show. (The latter being the most liked model photo from fashion month.) The real news comes as a new crop of models and lesser-known designers gained followers and engagement. Model Anok Yai, led the charge of models who gained the highest percentage of followers during fashion month, followed by Yasmin Wijnaldum; Adut Akech Bior; Léa Julian, and Vittoria Ceretti. 

On the designer front, Tom Ford, Burberry, Gucci and Chanel were unsurprisingly the most buzzed about shows of collections season, in their respective cities. But this season, we saw fresh names, such as Richard Quinn and Teatum Jones, the number two and four most-buzzed about designers of London Fashion Week on Instagram, respectively.

So while the Insta-girl game is strong — Kendall Jenner gained 12 million followers in 2017 alone — the community is showing an appetite for new faces, fresh ideas, and sure, a pizza emoji or two. — Sophia Chabbott

 

Marc Lore

Marc Lore  Seth Wenig/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Marc Lore

Marc Lore, president and chief executive officer of Walmart U.S. e-commerce, has transformed the retail giant’s online business. He’s dramatically grown the number of stockkeeping units on its marketplace, elevated product quality and the site’s aesthetics, and encouraged Walmart to upgrade its apparel assortment through acquisitions, brand launches and partnerships, such as an upcoming Lord & Taylor flagship store on the web site.

Lore joined Walmart Inc. in 2016 when his company, Jet.com, was acquired by the Bentonville, Ark., giant for $3.3 billion. Part of Lore’s attraction for Walmart ceo Doug McMillon was Jet.com’s smart cart technology, which offers customers discounts for buying more products across different categories.

With the motivation and insight for beating Amazon, which acquired his Quidsi start-up and shuttered it two years later, Lore knows the battle is grocery and delivery. His Scan and Go innovation lets consumers scan items and pay with their smartphones. High-tech pickup towers are being expanded to 700 stores and will have new lockers for oversize items. Walmart last year acquired last-mile delivery service Parcel, and recently partnered with Postmate.

Lore’s acquisitions in the fashion world include Shoes.com, Modcloth, Moosejaw and Bonobos, all of which fall under Jet.com, whose strategy Walmart is changing in order to focus that site solely on urban consumers.

Jet.com last month hired Simon Belsham to the new position of president, which sources said will free Lore to spend more time at the mother ship in Bentonville. After rapid expansion, the retailer’s online business slowed in the fourth quarter, growing 23 percent to $11.5 billion — but was up 40 percent for the year.  That’s only a fraction of Amazon’s revenues, but Walmart’s overall revenues of $500 billion are almost three times the size of Amazon’s.

Lore’s most lasting contribution may be Walmart technology incubator Store No. 8, which invests in transforming the future of retail and e-commerce with interactive, immersive and on-demand, autonomous vehicles, and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. — Sharon Edelson

 

Demna Gvasalia CFDA Awards 2017 After Party at Samsung 837

Demna Gvasalia  Jillian Sollazzo/WWD

Demna Gvasalia

It’s remarkable to consider that it was only four years ago that Vetements was founded, and just three that the fall 2015 show at Paris sex club Le Depot ignited a fevered fascination with the now 37-year-old Georgian designer and his signature aesthetic of mundane street appropriation crossed with Nineties, Eastern bloc irony to achieve an almost mythic cool factor. Within months of that show, Gvasalia had been named creative director of Balenciaga, where he’s ushered in a new era of urgency, relevance and robust business growth not seen since Nicolas Ghesquière at his peak.

Even if Vetements has cooled slightly since its early incandescence, the Demna effect is visible at all levels of the fashion market, trickling up and down to the logo-fied, counterintuitive, collaboration-obsessed streetwear frenzy that may well come to define this era in style. Juicy Couture, Manolo Blahnik, Umbro, Reebok and Tommy Hilfiger are a few of Vetements’ past brand tie-ups. Dad chic, ugly sneakers, logomania and the now ubiquitous short, oversize puffers, too, trace back to Gvasalia in some way or another.

Trends and fashion influence aside, Gvasalia has also infiltrated the industry-centric runway show dilemma. He was one of the first of the recent wave of designers of note to reject the traditional show calendar, moving Vetements to the couture schedule before taking it off the runway entirely last year.

Meanwhile at Balenciaga, his shows continue to be a must-see as he increasingly demonstrates his ability to straddle the haute and the street. His fall 2018 coed collection, set against a graffiti-ed snowdrift, was a compelling exercise in Cristóbal Balenciaga’s two main tenets — tailoring and volume — adapted for the 21st century. There were sleek but sculpted 3-D-printed blazers, and coats so big they would barely fit through a doorway. Plus a fair amount of gender fluidity and some CSR — Gvasalia introduced a charitable partnership with the World Food Programme by pledging to donate 10 percent of sales of certain items to the cause and stamping its logo all over the merch. — Jessica Iredale

 

 

Pierpaolo Piccioli

Pierpaolo Piccioli  Stephane Feugere/WWD

Passion and emotion — the driving forces behind Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino. A cynic may offer a raised eyebrow “yeah sure,” but Piccioli doesn’t play to the cynical set. His constituency is comprised of women who believe absolutely as he does, in fashion’s power to elevate, awe, inspire.

For fall, the designer delivered a rhapsody of chic that both built on and broke with tradition, the former, in its focus on flowers; the latter, in approaching those flowers from a perspective of strength and natural power. He wanted, he said, “to turn the stereotype of romanticism into something bold and strong.”

Indeed he did, with outsized flower graphics and often ample proportions. For Piccioli, romance is a life choice, “an individual, personal, passionate approach to life,” he said. “I think that is a real strength today, to be able to be fierce, to be strong and gentle at the same time, not to be aggressive but to be assertive. I started this collection with this idea of romanticism as a strength and not as a fragility.”

Early on in his tenure at Valentino, then in partnership with Maria Grazia Chiuri, that approach shocked, the compelling beauty and gentleness of the clothes in almost brazen defiance of the status quo. That is exactly Piccioli’s point: Fashion should elevate one’s mood, offering a gentle, if minor, antidote to the baser realities of modern life. He has evolved and pushed that premise without ever abandoning it, along the way creating a new genre of eveningwear — sophisticated, elegant and interesting, too.

For all of his romantic precepts and adherence to its resulting core aesthetic, Piccioli takes an intensely, if slyly, experimental approach to his work, a fact for which he probably doesn’t get enough credit, his languid silhouettes often the result of complicated constructions. Nor does experimentation begin and end with patternmaking. Well aware of the impact of casualization on luxury and life in general, Piccioli has responded forcefully, broadening the collection’s range of daywear. He’s done so not by dumbing down or cheapening his lineup but elevating key elements of sportswear and street in a manner that speaks with panache to the Valentino customer. Another stereotype beautifully disrupted. — B.F.

Bella Hadid and Gigi Hadid, Anna Sui RTW Spring 2018.

Bella Hadid and Gigi Hadid, Anna Sui RTW Spring 2018.  Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

Models

Models have always been indispensable to fashion. Once cast for a show, a campaign, a shoot, a model is the human conduit for expressing and translating the look, the collection, the mood and the moment. They are more than the face, they are the vehicle for a brand’s message.

But in the last few years, models have become so much more than that. Beginning with the rise of the Insta-models — where the most of-the-moment crop includes Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber — they wield more power than ever. Fueled by good looks (god-given or medically enhanced), enormous social media followings, and, in the new-gen case, some serious celebrity patrimony, the big girls of today can make one’s business. Just ask Tommy Hilfiger, who enjoyed a latter-day renaissance in large part due to his prescient decision to collaborate with Gigi Hadid on the Tommy x Gigi collection before she was huge.

Rather than sit there and look pretty, today’s models are encouraged — even required to some extent — to develop and flaunt their personalities, courting their own audiences over their social media channels. Higher follower engagement leads to more work. Not coincidentally, this generation of models also is very quickly driving sweeping change across an industry that seemed content to let sexual harassment, negligent and inappropriate behavior and racial bias remain built into the system.

Shortly after the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal broke in early October, model Cameron Russell turned her Instagram account into a forum for models to anonymously post their stories of sexual misconduct and harassment. The next few months became a swift moment of reckoning, as top photographers, stylists and agents had to answer for their behavior after allegations were filed against Bruce Weber by male model Jason Boyce, which acted as a precursor to explosive reports detailing years of model abuse and complaints in The New York Times and the Boston Globe against other photographers, including Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, David Bellemere, Greg Kadel, Seth Sabal and Andre Passos, and stylist Karl Templer, many of whom have denied the allegations. — J.I.

 

Raf Simons

Raf Simons  Lexie Moreland/WWD

Raf Simons

American fashion’s current great hope has turned out to be Belgian. A year after Raf Simons took the top post at Calvin Klein, one of the most lasting and iconic houses in Stateside fashion, he’s turned it on its head with his idiosyncratic, outsider’s view of the American Dream and experience, not to mention branding. In one fell swoop, he rechristened the runway collection Calvin Klein 205W39NYC and introduced Calvin Klein by Appointment, which has essentially been billed as the first U.S. couture house — though what’s really going on in the atelier besides celebrity dressing remains a mystery. He took home the two top honors at last year’s CFDA Fashion Awards — designer of the year for women’s and men’s — and that was only after one show.

The three collections Simons has shown have been complicated, full of the kind of heady, challenging fashion that has been largely absent from the New York Fashion Week scape for some time. Simons’ vision for Calvin, fueled by his ongoing collaboration with artist Sterling Ruby, has been at times dark but poetic and wistful, too, laced with Americana references ranging from Hitchcock to the prairie to Andy Warhol to tons and tons of popcorn. If the runway look can be a lot to parse, Calvin Klein’s vast underwear and denim empire is not. Simons’ influence has reverberated to put less and less between more and more customers and their Calvins. Underwear and jeans are two of the company’s biggest growth opportunities — and to flag it CK made the Kardashian-Jenner daughters the brand ambassadors. Accessories also are making an impact, as Simons’ early commitment to Western boots helped light a major trend. — J.I.

 

Dover Street Market

Dover Street Market  Mark Blower

Dover Street Market

Not only a fashion maverick, Rei Kawakubo is also a retail pioneer, birthing “guerrilla stores” in the early Aughts — temporary locations clearing old stock and new items in far-flung cities like Berlin, Ljubljana, Warsaw and Krakow — long before pop-ups were seriously de rigueur, and before Eastern Europe attained incandescent cool.

She also invented Dover Street Market, mingling her various Comme des Garçons brands with marquee luxury names and cutting-edge labels amid Porta-Potty changing rooms, village-hut cash wraps and wonky art installations. It was experiential retailing before the term entered the mainstream, and a streetwear destination eons before Supreme got a $1 billion valuation.

More than 14 years on, Dover Street Market still crackles with the restless energy of Kawakubo and her husband Adrian Joffe, chief executive officer of the multibrand emporium, who pings around the globe scoping out fledgling brands like Marine Serre, and new locales for its nameplate.

Dover Street Market Beijing is the latest — its fifth location — and a sixth outpost, in Los Angeles, is slated to open in September. The latter will be located in a warehouse building with a massive car park in the city’s downtown Arts District. (The other two are in Tokyo and Singapore.)

Always full of surprises, Joffe let slip earlier this month that he and Kawakubo are launching a new, Internet-based brand in July — a “simple” collection for men and women that will eventually expand to six shops worldwide. A week later, Russian streetwear maven Gosha Rubchinskiy, a Comme protégé and featured designer at Dover Street Market, revealed he would halt seasonal collections and hinted “something new is coming.” Joffe is intricately linked to all of Rubchinskiy’s projects, telegraphing how CDG has always searched for new creative ways to do business.

Renewal is certainly the lifeblood of Dover Street Market, which moved its original namesake London location in 2016, and which overhauls units twice a year with new shops, labels and installations. The changeover is dubbed “New Beginnings” and ushered in such new brands as Itchy Scratchy Patchy, Patcharavipa and Selim Mouzannar in New York.

All that experimentation is bearing fruit: DSM profits are up 35 percent on last year, with the Ginza and London branches driving the most growth, and New York breaking into profit after just three years. — WWD Staff

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