Riccardo Tisci and Hedi Slimane

PARIS — It seems the demise of the star designer has been greatly exaggerated: This year’s round of designer musical chairs in the fashion industry saw the comeback of two heavy hitters, with Hedi Slimane and Riccardo Tisci showing their debut collections in September for Celine and Burberry, respectively. 

Indeed, it was a year of major reshuffles at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which in addition to Slimane appointed Kim Jones as head of men’s wear at Christian Dior; Virgil Abloh as men’s wear designer at Louis Vuitton; and Kris Van Assche as creative director of Berluti.

In naming Slimane to succeed Phoebe Philo at Celine, LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault signaled his outsize ambitions for the French brand, founded in 1945. Speaking after the group reported record results for 2017, the luxury titan said revenues at Celine were close to 1 billion euros, and he expected the “global superstar” to significantly boost sales. 

“The objective with him is to reach at least 2 billion to 3 billion euros, and perhaps more, within five years,” Arnault said at the press conference in January. “Everything is in place for this brand to achieve quite exceptional growth.” 

The stakes were also high for Burberry, which reported sales of 2.73 billion pounds in the financial year ended March 31. Ceo Marco Gobbetti, who ignited Tisci’s fashion career by installing him as creative director of Givenchy in 2005, said he was confident the designer could propel Burberry to new heights.

“Riccardo is one of the most talented and influential designers of our time, and his skill in blending streetwear with high fashion is highly relevant to today’s consumer. He’s also embraced the British spirit of the company, and I’m really enjoying working together with him again,” Gobbetti said.

Reflecting the crucial role of social media in fashion marketing today, both Slimane and Tisci built up to their shows by drip-feeding clues on Instagram.

Slimane debuted his first design, the 16 handbag, on the arm of Lady Gaga in a post in late August, though he maintained the suspense until mid-September, when WWD confirmed exclusively that it was one of three new handbag lines that the brand was launching on Nov. 12.

In early September, the designer deleted all previous posts from Celine’s Instagram account and unveiled a new logo, minus the accent on the first “e,” unleashing a social media outcry among fans of Philo’s designs. He followed this with a series of black-and-white images on Instagram, alongside flyposting campaigns in New York, London and Milan that triggered a rash of wild posting by other brands.

Tisci started off by curating a selection of heritage-inspired pieces from Burberry’s spring 2019 pre-collection — including a trench, car coat, Harrington jacket, kilt and cape — which he posted on Instagram Stories in May, hinting at his aesthetic vision for the company.

In July, he announced he was working on a capsule collection with Vivienne Westwood, and in August, he unveiled the label’s new logo and monogram, designed in collaboration with the British art director and graphic designer Peter Saville. 

By the time their collections hit the catwalk, it almost felt like an anticlimax. Tisci surprised critics with his “something for everyone” approach, consisting of 134 looks, shown in a plush venue with no VIPs in attendance. 

“I’m trying to build, over time, a wardrobe for a mother and a daughter and a father and a son. We have so many stores. Why just offer one identity when you can really design for every age, for every culture and every different lifestyle?” he explained.

Slimane held his debut show in a giant tent erected behind the Hôtel des Invalides, home to Napoleon’s tomb, in front of a contingent of celebrity friends that included Gaga, Karl Lagerfeld, Catherine Deneuve, CL, Mark Ronson and Alexa Chung.  

He stuck to a familiar template with his “Paris La Nuit” show, transferring his Saint Laurent M.O.: a young, edgy runway vibe highlighting the classifications that will be available for purchase — pants, jackets, coats, handbags. But some critics thought the collection ill-judged in the context of the #metoo era.

Slimane hit back by suggesting there was a homophobic undertone to the outpouring of vitriol on social networks. He noted that U.S. observers were particularly sensitive to the fact that he succeeded Philo, who transformed the label during her 10-year tenure with sleek and luxurious leather goods and modernist clothing.

“For some in America, I also have the poor taste of being a man who is succeeding a woman. You could read into that a subtext of latent homophobia that is quite surprising. Is a man drawing women’s collections an issue?” Slimane questioned.

“At the end of the day, all of this is unexpected publicity for this collection. We didn’t expect as much. Above all, it crystallizes a very French form of anti-conformism and freedom of tone at Celine,” he added.

No doubt, the extreme reactions guaranteed Slimane’s debut was the noisiest of the year, though his LVMH stablemates made plenty of headlines of their own.

Jones commissioned U.S. artist Kaws to create a 33-foot-tall sculpture made up of 70,000 flowers for his debut men’s show for Dior, which drew VIPs including Robert Pattinson, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Kelly Osbourne, A$AP Rocky, Christina Ricci, Rita Ora, Joe Jonas, Lily Allen, Lenny Kravitz, Bella Hadid and Russell Westbrook.

Jones mined the Dior archives for inspiration related to the women’s couture heritage of the house, founded by Christian Dior in 1947. The feminine influence could be felt most keenly in the color palette, heavy on tennis whites and the house’s signature pink and gray, and the gentle tailoring. 

“People just want to be more comfortable, I think. It’s not so uptight and upright anymore,” the designer explained.

Abloh’s debut at Vuitton marked the beginning of a new chapter in fashion history: the moment when streetwear crashed the hallowed halls of luxury brands. As the Off-White founder took his bow, he embraced his mentor, Kanye West, and the two men openly wept tears of joy. 

Abloh said he wanted to start with a blank slate. His color scheme was based on white light hitting a prism and separating into a spectrum of hues, with shades ranging from off-white (naturally) to the multicolored palette of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“At first, I could just bring streetwear, my toolkit of that, just apply it over and do graphics,” he said. “That I can do in my sleep and I’ll do that, but not in this founding season. So the idea of the show is to establish that rationale, introduce the brand from the past in a new way that makes sense to contemporary dressing.”

Van Assche will be embracing a similar philosophy when he makes his runway debut for Berluti in January. His capsule spring collection, shown to buyers in showroom appointments, reflected the mix of tailoring and sportswear that has been a trademark of his previous work, both at Dior men’s and for his own label.  

Designer Guillaume Henry, best known for his stints at Nina Ricci and Carven, is taking up the design helm of dormant Jean Patou, acquired by LVMH and getting primed for a ready-to-wear and accessories launch in late 2019.

In parallel to the big-name designer changes, this year has also seen the continued rise of studio talents, with Daniel Lee, who worked with Philo at Celine, being named creative director of Bottega Veneta; Casey Cadwallader, previously at Acne Studios, becoming artistic director of Mugler; and Yolanda Zobel, another Acne Studios alum, taking the top job at Courrèges. 

Waiting in the wings are Dutch designer duo Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh, who will show their first collection for Nina Ricci on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar in spring; Louise Trotter, will also present her first collection for Lacoste for the fall 2019 season; and the yet-to-be-named creative director of Lanvin, whom market sources have identified as former Loewe men’s wear designer Bruno Sialelli.

Seats that sit empty include Carven, which parted ways with its creative director Serge Ruffieux in October after China’s Icicle acquired the heritage label, and Poiret, which parted ways with Yiqing Yin after just two seasons.

As the year draws to a close, the question on many lips is whether another top industry talent could soon be on the market. Tensions have flared between Raf Simons and PVH Corp., parent company of Calvin Klein, which he joined as chief creative officer in 2016. 

Speculation is rife that the two parties might not renew their contract when it expires in August. 

Emanuel Chirico, chairman and ceo of PVH, has stated in unusually blunt terms that the reimagined Calvin Klein isn’t clicking, while Simons is said to be equally disenchanted — and those both inside and outside the company speculated he could potentially walk even before his contract expires. Concerning possible successors, one name already being floated is Christopher Bailey, whose non-compete with Burberry expires in January 2019.

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