Does the pressure of the fashion biz drive designers to the brink?

09 March 2011

This season we’ve seen John Galliano's career implode, heard reports that Christophe Decarnin is depressed and may be in a mental health hospital, and marked the one year anniversary of Alexander McQueen’s suicide. Over the years, Stefano Pilati, Donatella Versace, Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein have all battled substance abuse and lately, the modern designer’s workload has grown exponentially, with pre-collections, diffusion lines, the effect of digital technology creating a global reach, etc. Now, the industry is examining itself to see if the pressures and the crack-ups are related. . . .

Boutique owner, Joan Burstein, of Browns in London says ‘Fashion, I think, has caught up so many designers in such a fever . . . I’m sure it’s the pressure and it’s everything that’s not normal at the moment. I think this desire to have four collections a year, and you’ve got to have it, and we want it in early; it’s not necessary.’

While affable American designer Michael Kors sympathised when asked if there’s more psychological stress on designers today; ‘Oh, no question,’ and rattled off his lengthy list of collections: pre-, diffusion, handbags, shoes, men’s.

‘I mean, I forget what season I’m in sometimes. And I think it has sped up certainly,’ he said. ‘I think every designer in today’s world, I don’t care whether you’re a designer who makes clothes that are phantasmagorical or very pragmatic, you have to figure out something that can ground you and bring you back.’

And Betty Catroux, who was part of Saint Laurent’s inner circle, said what’s changed is the sped-up media culture.

‘Fashion designers are artists, and artists are fragile. It’s a question of personal sensitivity,’ Catroux said. ‘Thirty years ago, this may have gone on in private, but because of our current YouTube culture, there is no more mystery, or privacy.’

It is a fact that designers have less privacy than others - ‘The people who create fashion are artists, and all artists are subject to stress. If they have a breakdown in private, it’s not a big deal,’ added Loulou de la Falaise, another member of the YSL clan. (Pictured above, with the designer)

But is it that simple? Plenty of other high profile fashion types say not.

Like Marc Jacobs – who has talked openly about his time in re-hab facilities in the past says addiction is not something to do with your job – it’s to do with the person you are;

'You don’t think bank tellers have problems? You don’t think people in the middle of the suburbs have problems?' he asked.

Jacobs said he learned in various treatment scenarios that 'blaming is such a complete waste. I mean, it’s so pointless. To say, you know, my mother was absent and therefore I ran amok, it’s ridiculous,' said Jacobs, whose Louis Vuitton show took place earlier today. ‘It’s a self-destructive nature, it’s a mental, physical and a kind of spiritual malady. If you subscribe to any of the teaching of any of those programs, whether it’s Overeaters Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous, people who are happy and healthy and spiritually well don’t do things to hurt themselves.’

Typically, Karl Lagerfeld thinks there’s simply no excuse; - ‘I see designing, running a company, like a high-level athletic activity,' he said. 'I don’t want to hear anything about the fragility or any of those things. If an athlete is too fragile to run, he cannot run. And this is exactly the same. You don’t accept this kind of business if you’re too much of an artist.

‘I believe in discipline, so I’m not the right person to cry about weakness and things like this, but maybe I’m not human.’

And Pierre Bergé – the late Yves Saint Laurent’s partner in fashion and in life thinks the theory is preposterous.

‘I have a lot more sympathy for people who have to take the train to work every day. What a load of nonsense! No, no, no,’ he sniped when asked if the industry is to blame when its creative leaders crash. ‘Designers are artisans who are extremely privileged to have a poetic profession. They are not artists. We have to stop saying that they are.’

What do you think? Does the fashion business and its insatiable timetable put designers under pressure so intolerable that they are bound to crack?

OR do you think that they are rewarded enough for their efforts (they are able to pay for a whole lot nicer brand of rehab than if the likes of you or I were seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction), and that the demands of the role are something they should factor in when deciding to do their job? It's a big debate!

- Naomi Attwood


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