Chances of early retirement: Slim.
Sonia Rykiel, 71. Rykiel founded the famous knitwear house in 1968 and now has sales of more than $70 million. She’s enjoyed a minor renaissance recently with interest in vintage styles and her signature studded leather accessories.
Succession Plans: “She’s there, she’s very happy, she’s working and she’s really good at it,” said her daughter, Nathalie Rykiel. “She has no desire to retire, nobody’s forcing her to go and we feel lucky that she is here.” Nathalie Rykiel was officially named creative director three years ago and is in line to assume responsibility for the collection should her mother decide to stop. “I am the person who will find the tools to succeed Sonia,” she said. “But today is not the day.”
Chances of early retirement: All sewn up.
Emanuel Ungaro, 68. Ungaro founded his company 35 years ago and now counts fashion and fragrance sales of $150 million worldwide.
Succession Plans: The designer has “absolutely no plans to retire for the moment and has prolonged his contract with Ferragamo,” the house said on Thursday. Ungaro officially designated Giambattista Valli as his successor last year. Although Ungaro remains chairman and creative director of the house and couturier, he passed the reins for ready-to-wear to Valli last fall.
Chances of early retirement: Bound to happen.
Giorgio Armani, 67. Armani is sole owner of his company, worth an estimated $2.5 billion, and is considered the richest designer in the world.
Succession Plans: “Our focus is to strengthen our management structure within the company,” a spokesman said. “Building up a team of expert managers covering each of the principal operating areas of this diverse and complex group is one of our primary business objectives.” Armani’s refusal to sell any part of his company is said to have been the main impetus for Giuseppe Brusone to have left the company nearly two years ago, eventually to become chief executive officer of Donna Karan. Armani recently named Gianni Gerbotto, a longtime deputy managing director, officially as managing director.
Chances of early retirement: Al dente.
Valentino Garavani, of uncertain age. While the history books put it around 69, Valentino claims 63. “If Karl Lagerfeld is 63, then so am I,” he said Thursday. In 1959, he opened his couture house with an atelier in Rome and grew quickly into an undisputed fashion champion, with $360 million in retail sales today.
Succession Plans: None yet, but “I will continue working as long as I have something to say as a designer. People quit when they no longer have anything to say, and that is not the case with me. It’s too early for me to talk about a successor.”
Chances of early retirement: A snowball’s chance in a tanning bed.
Mariuccia Mandelli, 67. Krizia, the firm headed by Mandelli and her husband, Aldo Pinto, was founded in Milan in 1954, taking its name from Plato’s dialogue on the vanity of women. Quite so, as the company has sales of $400 million, including licenses.
Succession Plans: “I would like to work until I’m 70, 80, 90 years old. I would like to be eternal,” Mandelli said. “I’m surrounded by a staff of young people who have worked with me for years. There is a lot of harmony in the way we work. Could they be my ideal successors? The experiences I have had with two designers have disappointed me. It’s hard to work in tandem and their egos always get in the way. So if I could choose, I would like to meet a clone of Tom Ford.”
Chances of early retirement: Far spun.
Ralph Lauren, 62. Lauren started designing neckties and formed Polo in 1967 as a division of Beau Brummel, then opened a separate sportswear company the following year. Now a publicly traded company with 10,000 employees and a total wholesale volume of $4.8 billion, the designer ranks among the industry’s richest.
Succession Plans: Is it all in the family? Lauren has given no indication of his future plans, but he was quoted this week in the International Herald Tribune as saying: “I am not ready to retire….If I feel I’ve got nothing to say, then I’ll quit.” Of his three children, only David Lauren currently works at Polo full time and was promoted in October to senior vice president of marketing, advertising and corporate communications. Lauren told WWD after his spring collection: “I’m not going anywhere, but I think David is growing. He has a contribution to make.” And although the heirs are said to be in line for voting control of the company in the event of Lauren’s passing, insiders say two key managers may hold the design cards: Charles Fagan, executive vice president of Polo Retail and Alfredo Paredes, executive vice president of creative services, Polo shop development and home collection design studio.
Chances of early retirement: This pony isn’t ready to be put out to pasture.
Calvin Klein, 59. Klein and business partner Barry Schwartz have built a $2.5 billion wholesale operation since founding Calvin Klein in 1968. Looking to the future, they put the business on the block in 1999, asking for $1 billion, but decided to hold onto it seven months later. That’s not to say Klein would turn his back if the right deal came along.
Succession Plans: Throughout negotiations with various companies, there was constant speculation about whether he would continue to design if he sold the company. But after giving up on a sale, the designer said: “My intention was not to retire.” And the following summer, upon receiving the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Klein said: “I feel like I’m still beginning….I’m still looking at how to do it all better, and how to get to the next place.” Still, his colleagues have questioned what would happen to the brand should he no longer be able to design. His daughter, Marci, is a producer for “Saturday Night Live,” and has “zero” interest in the business, and there doesn’t appear to be any internal candidates vying for the position. Zack Carr, his longtime creative director and his closest design associate, died in 2000 of cancer, and Sydney Bachman, senior vice president and his confidant on creative issues, left the company in November.
Chances of early retirement: Minimal.
Oscar de la Renta, 69. He joined Jane Derby in 1965 and was soon operating as Oscar de la Renta Ltd. with his own ready-to-wear line. He became the first American to helm a couture collection in 1992, when he signed with Balmain. Although no one can match de la Renta’s spirit, the designer has shown some signs that there will some day be an end — serious back surgery last year led him to inform Balmain he would like to leave the house within a year.
Succession Plans: With an estimated $50 million in collection sales plus more than $600 million at retail with licensed products, de la Renta has been wooed by practically every investor active in fashion today. But he recently said: “I don’t want to sell my business [now] because if I work hard for another five years I could sell it for a much higher price.” De la Renta has made a number of improvements to his business in recent years, bringing in a new tier of young staffers that could one day take over. John Nickleson has been de la Renta’s right-hand in the design room for almost three decades and has an inside track, while more recent additions like Eliza Reed Bolen, vice president of licensing and the designer’s stepdaughter; Adam Lippes, vice president and creative director and Austyn Zung, a designer, are taking increasingly higher profiles at the house.
Chances of early retirement: America’s next most likely candidate.
Donna Karan, 53. Karan is tops among Seventh Avenue’s most powerful women, but her reflective nature often causes the designer to wonder what’s next. Although her signature company has been around for less than two decades, it’s gone through several incarnations, from private to publicly traded to its acquisition by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton last year. It’s been a tough transition for the designer, particularly after the passing of her husband and business mentor, Stephan Weiss, last June.
Succession Plans: Karan frequently wisecracks that she’s ready to retire “now,” but this is a designer whose vision is too big to just walk away. Her daughter, Gaby, shows a strong interest in Karan’s work, but the designer also has close relations to a number of rising talents. Istvan Francer worked on various Karan brands for 13 years before joining Fin.part to design the Maska collection as well as his new signature line, and Jane Chung always seems to land right on her boss’s wavelength with her collections for DKNY and is frequently touted as the internal successor. Still, Karan is also said to have been in the market for a top women’s collection designer for the past year.
Chances of early retirement: It’s not in the tarot cards.
Betsey Johnson, 59. After designing for Paraphernalia, Johnson started the Betsey, Bunky and Nini stores in 1969 and then opened her signature firm in 1978. The designer had a scare with breast cancer two years ago, but recovered fully after a lumpectomy.
Succession Plans: “I’m not going to be done until I’m dead,” said Johnson. “I have decided that I just want to work forever. I know that I don’t want to retire.” Although her daughter, Lulu, has taken on a higher profile in the company in recent years and shares a walk down the runway each season, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s next in line to helm Johnson’s wild and crazy collections. Johnson runs her company with partner Chantal Bacon, president and co-owner, and the two have discussed a number of ways to go, “but we simply don’t know what we would do yet, and there’s no reason for us to face that reality, yet.”
Chances for early retirement: Don’t spin a cartwheel, just yet.