Great design does not always equate to instant business success, bigger-than-life fame, or a place in history.
This story first appeared in the March 18, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The roster for Fashion Institute of Technology’s Great Designers Symposium Saturday included discussions on Olivier Theyskens, Maison Martin Margiela and Edward Molyneux.
Theyskens proved in 2006 that sometimes more than great design is needed to survive, when Procter & Gamble Co. shut Rochas, the Theyskens-led $12 million design house that won critical acclaim but barely covered its operation costs, said Pamela Golbin, curator-in-chief at the Musée de la Mode et du Textil du Louvre.
“The fashion world was in shock…but in retrospect it was quite a miracle the collaboration had lasted so long,” said Goblin.
Theyskens’ experience also proves great designers can bounce back — he is again designing at Nina Ricci. Golbin said Theyskens’ greatest contribution to fashion thus far has been his “vocabulary on femininity” in a post-business suit world.
Kaat Debo, artistic director of the Mode Museum in Antwerp, spoke on another Belgian designer, Maison Martin Margiela, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in October. That is just young enough to make the cut for Debo’s museum, which focuses on contemporary designers “who have only been around designing 10 to 20 years.” For Margiela, success is achieved through his cerebral take on fashion — and perhaps his elusive nature.
“His methods can be considered a deconstruction of the fashion system,” said Debo.
Since opening his design house in the late Eighties, Margiela has kept a low profile “in a decade characterized by extreme narcissism where designers gained superstar status,” Debo said. She pointed out that Margiela never sits for portraits, answers interview questions in the first person plural (for his house, as opposed to for him as a designer), puts a blank label in his garments, and keeps his models anonymous by blocking their faces with paint, masks or rectangular sunglasses that look like “don’t” protection.
Decades earlier, Edward Molyneux’s name wasn’t the equal in fame to what Hamish Bowles considers the greatness of his designs. The British-born designer began his career at the British house Lucile, then went out on his own after World War I and kept a booming business until 1951 (he came back briefly and less successfully years later).
“In fashion’s fickle history Molyneux was eclipsed by his more flamboyant contemporaries, Chanel, Lanvin and Dior,” said Bowles, adding that Dior appropriated much from Molyneux — including his gray-on-gray shop aesthetic, some of his favorite models-muses and his aesthetic (until 1938, Dior sold sketches to Molyneux, said Bowles).