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WWD Year In Fashion issue 12/15/2008

Fashion’s revolving door kept spinning in 2008, with executives and designers in flux at Europe’s biggest luxury groups.

The moves underscored two industry trends: Conglomerates looked mainly within their own ranks for management talent and, on the creative front, companies mainly sought designers willing to devote their sole focus to brand building across all product categories, as opposed to having their attention diverted by a signature line.

This story first appeared in the December 15, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

After a long negotiation with former Chloé wiz Phoebe Philo, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in September named the British designer as Celine’s new creative director, with plans to overhaul the French firm’s product lines and rejuvenate a large, but stalled, fashion franchise.

Basing her design team out of London, Philo is to present her first designs for Celine next spring, marking the comeback of a popular and acclaimed designer who had been out of the spotlight since 2006.

(Separately, Chloé parted ways with designer Paulo Melim Andersson, who had pursued an edgier, quirkier path for the Richemont-owned brand. He was replaced by Hannah MacGibbon, who had worked under Philo for five years and helped set the brand’s winning hip-yet-girlish template.)

Philo’s arrival at Celine not only shunted out designer Ivana Omazic, who had an uneven tenure, but also precipitated a wide-ranging management shuffle at LVMH involving three other brands. Celine tapped Givenchy’s chief executive officer Marco Gobbetti as Philo’s management counterpart, with John Galliano’s Fabrizio Malverdi filling Gobbetti’s shoes, and Christian Dior’s Pierre Denis becoming Galliano’s managing director.

Meanwhile, Celine’s former ceo, Serge Brunschwig, became chief operating officer at Christian Dior, filling a slot left vacant when Claus-Dietrich Lahrs went to become chief executive at Hugo Boss AG, succeeding Bruno Sälzer, who landed at the helm of another German fashion house, Escada, succeeding Jean-Marc Loubier.

A game of musical chairs also played out at Gucci Group when Gucci brand chief Mark Lee announced in September he would step down at the end of 2008 after a four-year tenure that saw brand revenues grow 46 percent, excepting a wobble in the first quarter of 2008.

Like LVMH, Gucci Group looked within for its succession plan: Patrizio di Marco, who had spearheaded rapid growth at Bottega Veneta, will take over from Lee. In turn, Stella McCartney’s Marco Bizzarri is set to move to Bottega on Jan. 1.  However, he will be succeeded by an outsider: Frederick Lukoff, who is slated to join the London-based fashion house Feb. 23 from Lanvin, where he is business development director.

Jean Paul Gaultier named his third president in as many years, saying Hermès International executive Véronique Gautier would succeed Christophe Caillaud as president

Meanwhile, designer changes underscored the difficulty of reviving heritage brands, and a lack of patience on the part of brand stewards in a competitive environment.

In one of the more abrupt appointments in recent history, Valentino dismissed Alessandra Facchinetti, successor to the Roman couturier, the day after she showed her second ready-to-wear collection. The company cited “a misaligned vision with the company.”

Valentino’s longtime accessories duo, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paulo Piccioli, will take up the rtw and couture reins, with a vow to prioritize evolution over revolution, a decision applauded by the house founder and his longtime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti.

Lars Nilsson logged an even shorter tenure at a storied Italian house. The Swedish designer was ousted from Gianfranco Ferré a week before he was to show his first collection on the runway last February.

He was succeeded by Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi of 6267, who had been pivotal in the relaunch of the Malo brand, owned by IT Holding Group, which also controls Ferré. The men showed their first collection in late September to mixed reviews.

Peter Som parted ways as creative director of Bill Blass women’s wear at the end of his contract, amid frustrations the financially troubled brand’s owner, NexCen Brands Inc., Bill Blass, and its rtw component are for sale.

The relaunch of the iconic Halston label also came with a swift designer exit. Italian-born Marco Zanini, who had cut his teeth at Versace, designed two collections for the house before departing. In November, he was named creative director at Rochas, a shuttered rtw brand being resurrected under license by Italian manufacturer Gibò Co. SpA, with his first collection due to hit the runway in Paris next spring. Also in November, Cacharel said it ended its brief association with British design couple Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto.

Other creative comings-and-goings were less dramatic. Peter Dundas, a Norwegian designer who had a brief stint at Emanuel Ungaro, was named the new artistic director at Emilio Pucci, replacing Matthew Williamson, whose contract had come to an end, and he had a desire to focus on his signature collection.

Jonathan Saunders was named rtw director at Pollini, succeeding Rifat Ozbek at the end of his four-year contract at the Italian house.

Saunders and Dundas are to present their first collections in February in Milan.

Hennes & Mauritz also turned a page, with Ann-Sofie Johansson named head of design as Margaret van den Bosch moved into semiretirement after 30 years at the design helm of the Swedish fashion giant.

Finally, two industry veterans landed at big brands. Isaac Mizrahi, famous for his signature brand and for launching fashion’s high-low craze with his Target Corp. tie-in, was named creative director for all categories of the better-priced women’s Liz Claiborne brand.

And Hussein Chalayan, the Cyprus-born design maverick famous for his mechanical dresses, was named creative director at sportswear brand Puma AG, a new post, with the German firm also acquiring a majority stake in his signature fashion house. His first designs for Puma will be unveiled next year.

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