Lonely at the Top

Tuesday, 08 March 2011
It's lonely at the top, they say, a feeling that's ever so prevalent to the designers heading up the luxury fashion houses today. Perhaps sparked by John Galliano's fall from grace, this season has seen the rumour mill in full force on who's contract is about to expire (Stefano Pilati at YSL), who should replace whom (Haider Ackermann would do a stellar job at Givenchy if Ricardo Tisci moved to Dior) and who should be ousted (let's not even go there.) Frankly, it's too much heresay and certainly not fair to the designers in question.

Take Hannah McGibbon, who's Chloe presentation on Tuesday received mixed if not crushing reviews. MacGibbon may have taken cues from the 70s a tad too literal, what with a Charlie's Angels bow-tie coat over a floaty dress, but her eye for soft, feminine and most importantly wearable clothes is certainly a strength and there were plenty of commercial looks that will no doubt fly off the shelves. Instead, a publication like the International Herald Tribune - a benchmark for catwalk reviews - called for MacGibbon to leave the design studio and check out the Paris shops, to gain an idea of what people are really wearing and what's out on the street. These kinds of remarks can result in an avalanche of negative publicity which ultimately not only adds to the insane pressure designers must experience to deliver new clothes, new ideas, season after season, year after year, but also shakes up their livelihoods, because for every designer at the helm of a fashion house, a hundred others are eyeing up the job. And to have a CFO knock on your door to ask why your collection didn't receive positive reviews is not a pleasant conversation, perhaps not even a constructive one.

Of course when a runway presentation is so far out of context (see Ungaro with Lindsay Lohan) the critiques are more than just. But in this age, with Facebook, Twitter, and social media allowing all access to fashion all the time, it takes but one remark to cause a volcano to erupt. Has fashion arrived at a point where nobody is allowed to make a mistake or have an off season even? If a few runway looks don't cause the kind of stir Phoebe Philo at Celine creates, does that make it a bad show?

There are plenty of designers and brands who are lauded season after season, who's front row is packed with the latest celebrity and it-girls, but who's product really don't push the boat out when it comes to creativity, in fact they are boring. Sadly, many of these brands are pleasing to buyers, who applaud sameness, easyness and commerciality. Yes, these brands will sell, sell, sell, with diffusion ranges inexpensively produced in faraway Asian factories to finance their mainlines. But why these brands can deliver the same formula collections each season without a single debate is mindboggling. We'll take the bow-tie coat and floaty dress any day.

Image: Chloe AW11