NEW YORK — After 12 months of unsettling changes for the designer industry, 2005 will mark a year of rebuilding for luxury conglomerates Gucci Group and Prada as several designers in fashion capitals around the world face their own second acts.
The pace of acquisitions, potential sales, launches and executive and designer moves in 2004 was such that the pecking order of brands has been radically altered. Designers who were once among the most revered in fashion have seen their standing drop significantly, while relatively new names — Zac Posen, Proenza Schouler, Derek Lam, Patrick Robinson — have made huge strides in their careers, or at least leaps of faith.
The trajectory of fashion’s rising stars and the fate of those established brands who may, or may not, be put up for sale by the European conglomerates will likely be determined in the coming months, based on the recent statements and actions of those companies. The industry’s biggest names have already reported they will spend significant sums in 2005 to improve their respective designer operations.
Compagnie Financière Richemont said it will invest millions in the expansion of Chloé, based on the phenomenal response to designer Phoebe Philo’s recent collections and the brand’s fivefold growth in volume in as many years. Meanwhile, Jean Paul Gaultier has prompted a review of its operations for the opposite reason, having experienced its first loss in more than a decade, at least partly because of the costs of its couture division. As Gaultier president Donald Potard noted recently, “We’ve run up the stairs two at a time. Now we need to catch our breath.”
Meanwhile, Prada Group has been sending mixed signals as the conglomerate wrestles with its financial future, weighing whether to go forward or delay plans for an initial public offering. Similarly, there are other questions facing Prada over the future of its other brands — at Jil Sander, where the designer resigned for a second time in November, and at Helmut Lang. Patrizio Bertelli, Prada’s chief executive officer, first announced the conglomerate had acquired the remaining half of Helmut Lang as “a clear demonstration of how strongly we believe in the potential of the brand.” Then an Italian newspaper quoted Bertelli as saying that Prada was considering selling Sander and Lang. Then Bertelli back-peddled, saying the brands are not for sale.
Whatever the outcome on that front, it is a reasonable deduction that other designers have been paying attention to the human resources struggles of Sander and Lang, as well as Robinson, Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs. The inner-workings and manipulations of contract renewals have rarely played out quite so vividly in public as they did in the past year, circumstances that other designers are likely to take into consideration as they approach the varying jobs that are open — or opening. The most obvious position awaiting an appointment is the women’s design role at Givenchy, where speculation has centered on the London-based designer Roland Mouret as the leading contender among a pack that has at times been reported to include Posen, Sophia Kokosalaki and Isaac Mizrahi.
On another front, when Robinson resigned from Perry Ellis at the end of November, people familiar with the situation said the designer has another job in the works at a Paris-based design house, this time working under the umbrella of Puig.