The designer retirement issue

16 December 2009

karl lagerfeld

Retirement is a tricky topic, especially in the fashion biz. After all, when you’ve worked so hard to build up a fashion house, you’re not going to give it up without a fight… or at least making life a bit difficult for your successor a la Yves St Laurent (Tom Ford recently branded YSL and his partner Pierre Berge ‘so difficult and so evil’ after he took over the company). And on top of the personal attachment, there’s also the worry of your name being linked to a label not under your influence anymore - need we remind you of Emanuel Ungaro’s veeery public slating of Lindsay Lohan’s first line for the brand before he lamented; 'That happens to a lot of designers. We were the creators and patrons, responsible for the creation and destiny of our houses. But when we gave up our houses, we gave up our souls’?  

And with several major designers now in their seventies – Karl Lagerfeld is 76, Ralph Lauren is 70, Oscar de la Renta is 77, and Giorgio Armani is 75 and also plagued with ill-health – the speculation about when they might be hanging up and handing over their tape measures is never-ending.


While Karl Lagerfeld has proclaimed he’ll never give up his 27-year reign at Chanel and that he ‘was going to die with his boots on’, rumours of his potential successor are still rife, with names including Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz and even Marc Jacobs being thrown into the pot. Although Chanel continues to deny any thought of replacing Karl, saying; "Karl Lagerfeld is the creative director of Chanel and enjoys a long-term contract which is absolutely not put into question. His succession is not on the agenda,” inside sources suggest the issue can’t be too far from the label’s mind. Meanwhile, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and Giorgio Armani are also all keeping schtum on their futures, but there’s no question Giorgio has been delegating out more responsibility within the company lately. He has appointed a new Deputy Chairman, Finance Director and General Manager, and also acknowledged his nephew, who is currently Vice President of Licensing and Marketing at the Armani Group, may have a big opportunity in the company one day.

Ralph Lauren

Surely this is a wise move to choose and groom your potential replacement yourself, rather than losing all control over the decision. And it seems designers want to do this while keeping their successor under wraps to avoid them being snapped up by someone else. So, we reckon there must be some cogs whirring behind the scenes at the major fashion houses. 

Of course, family-run businesses like Versace and Prada, or privately-owned houses like Armani are more respectful of the names that built the business, in contrast to the larger luxury conglomerates (often public companies with shareholders to please), that may be more cut-throat in their decision making.

With their collections still looking incredible and no signs of slowing down (Karl’s recent projects have included shooting with Claudia Schiffer in Argentina, a lavish trip to launch Chanel’s first store in Shanghai, and launching a Chanel magazine…), for the older designers still having talent and drive is obviously no issue. So, perhaps the lure of the slippers, dog-walks and Diagnosis Murder re-runs just isn’t strong enough at the moment… [NY Mag

- Alex Davies


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