GIVENCHY’S NEW BRIT: JULIEN MACDONALD WINS TOP DESIGN POST
Byline: Miles Socha / Samanntha Conti / With contributions from James Fallon, London
PARIS — The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Givenchy named British designer Julien Macdonald, who once interned with Alexander McQueen, as its new couturier, ending an intense three-month search for a successor.
“We are very excited,” Yves Carcelle, head of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s fashion and leather goods business groups, told WWD Wednesday afternoon before the Loewe show here. “This guy has a very optimistic view and an elegant approach to fashion. If there’s one word that characterized Givenchy, it is elegance, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be exciting. We don’t want something plain and boring for Givenchy.”
Macdonald’s appointment is sure to catch many by surprise. Givenchy has kept a tight lid on the search process and it is believed only a select number of candidates were contacted, including Stella McCartney, Olivier Theyskens and Alber Elbaz.
LVMH chief executive officer Bernard Arnault’s advisers and Givenchy management were said to be divided on the next direction for the brand, which has conservative roots but was pulled in an avant-garde direction under McQueen’s tenure.
Carcelle acknowledged that the “choice was very difficult” and said any of the candidates it considered would have done a “wonderful” job for the house. But he pointed out that “the chemistry is there” with Macdonald.
Carcelle said the contract was signed very late Wednesday night, meeting up with Macdonald after he had stopped by La Stresa for a late dinner organized by Bloomingdale’s Kal Ruttenstein for Marc Jacobs. Carcelle said Macdonald’s expertise with fabrics was a crucial factor in the choice because “Givenchy remains one of the last couture houses and it is important to have this ability.”
Macdonald, 28, was travelling to Indonesia Wednesday and could not be reached immediately for comment. In a statement, he said: “For me, it’s a dream come true. I love the sacred art of couture and being given the chance to design for such an amazing house is a fabulous opportunity.”
Givenchy president Mariane Tesler said Macdonald’s love of art, his creative potential and his energetic personality will bring new energy to the house.
“And his design sensibility is very representative of the Givenchy woman: classy, modern, elegant, sexy and feminine,” she said in a statement.
Macdonald’s title at Givenchy will be artistic director of women’s, meaning he will oversee all products for women, including couture, ready-to-wear and accessories. McQueen’s responsibilities only covered couture and rtw, which had been a source of frustration for the outspoken designer.
“When I started at Givenchy, I didn’t have much control over the illusion to the public,” he lamented in these columns last September, alluding to advertising and other image vehicles. “My first two years were a nightmare.”
In the September interview, McQueen said he would try to make Givenchy a success, but three months later, disclosed that he had sold 51 percent of his fashion house to rival Gucci Group, angering LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Givenchy’s parent, and its chairman, Arnault. Givenchy subsequently cancelled major shows planned for its couture last January and for rtw this Friday.
Taking a break from fittings, McQueen attended the Yves Saint Laurent show Wednesday. Asked if he had any problem with the timing of the announcement, less than 48 hours before his rtw show, he replied: “Oh God, no! It couldn’t come at a better time. Now I’m free to concentrate on McQueen.”
As for his successor, he said: “I wish him all the luck in the world. I think he’ll learn a lot from Givenchy. It’s an education.”
Macdonald becomes the third British designer charged with rejuvenating the legendary brand following the retirement of Hubert de Givenchy in 1995. Givenchy was succeeded by John Galliano, but Arnault moved Galliano into the Christian Dior slot a year later and brought in Alexander McQueen.
Since then, Givenchy has benefited from the publicity and energy McQueen brought to the label, and the fragrance and beauty business has been strong. But the house struggled to establish an image and customer base for McQueen’s rtw, who showed collections inspired by cowgirls, space aliens, basketball and punk rock.
Some final details of the deal with Macdonald need to be worked out, but Carcelle said he expects the designer’s first effort for Givenchy, a summer couture collection, to be shown here in July.
Some might interpret the choice of Macdonald as a new direction for LVMH, which set the trend for hiring famous, high-profile designers when it put John Galliano at Dior, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors at Celine in the mid-Nineties. Last October, LVMH named Julio Espada — a relatively unknown designer with decades of behind-the-scenes experience — the new designer at Pucci. And Macdonald, while well known in rap and London fashion circles, is not a household name.
But Carcelle said choosing a designer cannot be done by formula, since it is tantamount to a marriage. Besides, he noted that “if you look at Marc Jacobs, he was not famous all over the world when we hired him for Louis Vuitton.”
Macdonald is a graduate of London’s Royal College of Art and worked with Karl Lagerfeld as head knitwear designer at Chanel couture until 1997, when he founded his own company.
Told of McDonald’s appointment, Lagerfeld said: “Good for Julien. I found him when he was still in school. I am happy that my instincts are good.”
As for his predictions of Macdonald’s version of Givenchy, Lagerfeld said, “it’ll be very nightclubbing. It’s very ‘Hot Couture,”‘ he said, referring to a recent fragrance launch for the brand.
Famous for his glam-and-glitz styles, Macdonald has earned the moniker “the British Versace.” But the Welshman also has a head for business.
“You can do crazy things, but you have to do things people can wear, as well,” he told WWD last year. “It’s not about suffering for your art. At the end of the day, it’s a business and you need all the right things to make it one.”
One of London’s fashion showmen — it’s not unusual to see models gyrate down his runways to the beat of live rappers — Macdonald has lately become the British starlet’s designer of choice. It’s become commonplace for Macdonald’s barely there dresses to be featured on the front pages of the British tabloids at the latest premieres. Front-row celebrities have included Baby Spice, Martine McCutcheon, the boy band Westlife, Brenda Blethyn and Joely Richardson.
During his fall 2001 rtw show last month, Macdonald redecorated the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel as an old-style music hall, complete with a battered, dark wood runway and plush red velvet curtains emblazoned with his initials in big gold letters. He focused on slit-to-the-hips sequined dresses, barely there minidresses in rose-patterned sequins, gold flapper-style dresses over velvet tops, studded leather jumpsuits with handpainted flowers, crystal-covered skirts in harlequin patterns and bejeweled denim tops, pants and jackets.
As with many British designers, he struggled to build a business. But last October, he got his chance. Macdonald formed a joint venture with the Italian yarn and clothing manufacturer, Gruppo Lineapiu, to run his business.
“It was a make-or-break situation for me,” the designer said at the time. “This will enable me to develop a wider line including more tailoring, jeans and accessories+in the next few years, if I hit the sales targets, the big money starts flowing for advertising and opening my own shop.”
Macdonald and Lineapiu each hold 50 percent of the Julien Macdonald name, and of the new company based near the Lineapiu headquarters in Capalle, halfway between Florence and Prato. Lineapiu will begin producing and distributing the designer’s women’s rtw line starting this fall.
A spokeswoman for Lineapiu and Carcelle confirmed that Macdonald will continue to design and produce a signature line. But Carcelle said “he will dedicate most of his time in Paris to Givenchy.”