Estrella Archs leaves Ungaro! will Giles sign up?

20 April 2010

Founder Emanuel Ungaro

Stop press! Estrella Archs, it has been confirmed has left Ungaro to work on her own label. Yikes! Now there's officially a vacancy at the Paris house, who will fill it?

Just when you think everyone in fash seems to have gone on holiday and cut off all our news stories at the source - Shazam! The gossip mill grinds out a beauteous story like this one; Giles (Deacon, no less and *swoon*) has been spotted by WWD talking with Ungaro owner Asim Abdullah and his management team in Avenue Montaigne's Le Relais Plaza.

WHAT on earth could be brewing? Will Giles move into one of fashion’s most beleaguered jobs, that of creative director of Ungaro?

A vintage Ungaro design

The French house was founded in 1965, and hasn’t been settled with one designer consistently since the retirement of the founder in 2004. Emanuel Ungaro, son of a tailor and former assistant to Cristobel Balenciaga enjoyed huge success through the 70’s and 80’s, and although, his ruffly,  draped swingy style fell out of vogue in the 90’s he has always enjoyed the respect of the fashion community.


Giambattista Valli left, and designer Estella Archs with Lindsay Lohan

Although the transfer of any fashion house from one designer’s hands to another is famously tricky (look at Givenchy, Christian Dior, and latterly, Maison Martin Margiela) Ungaro prepared his business for the event of his departure by selecting Giambattista Valli (who was working at another brand at the time) to be his number two, and his successor.

The two worked side by side in an extended handover process for six years, from 1998 till 2004 until Valli left the company - reportedly following a disagreement with Emanuel’s wife Laura, the company's global communications director - and set up shop under his own name.


left -Ungaro SS05 and right -Giles 08

Giambattista’s gamble seemed to pay off, and he became an increasingly established figure on the Paris Fashion Week schedule. As he went from strength to strength (famously turning down the offer to succeed Valentino on his retirement) the house of Ungaro assumed the role of the painting in Valli’s attic – lurching from problems to disaster.

The company was at one time owned by the Ungaros and the Italian manufacturing firm Ferragamo, but the designer sold his stake for over £40m when he retired. (Ferragamo held on to the fragrance division).


left,Ungaro 2003, right Giles 2007

The man who bought the business, Asim Abdullah, is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with no experience of the fashion world, but whose plan would have been to repeat the formula that worked so well for businesses like Louis Vuitton and Burberry – take an established name but failing business, bring in a wonderful designer and regenerate the brand.  

To this end he appointed Mounir Moufarriage as the CEO, based on his successful time at Paris brand, Chloe, where under his leadership Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo brought the company back to life and to the forefront of fashion.

But things didn’t roll out according to plan, and since this takeover the unfortunate brand has now notched up a role call of four designers in just five years. Vincent Darre, Peter Dundas, Esteban Cortezar and most recently Central Saint Martins graduate Estrella Archs, who is rumoured to be the only designer Moufarriage could persuade to work alongside ‘artistic advisor’ Lindsay Lohan, and who left the company today.


both designers claim bold prints as signature - Ungaro left and Giles centre and right

Lohan worked with Ungaro for one season only, and since then Archs has presented one collection by herself. Now she has gone we don't know who the house will appoint next . . .

Will Giles take the bait? Like Giambattista Valli, his own label continues to grow, as does his fame as a designer (and he has two seasons at Paris under his belt now, leaving London fashionistas feeling somewhat bereft). Does Ungaro need Mr Deacon more than he needs them?

We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

-Naomi Attwood


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