The term “young emerging designer” is a curse that very few survive.
Last week an article about Zac Posen in the New York Times caught my attention; it talked about his meteoric rise to fame and his subsequent fall: Posen is not selling very well, the press stopped promoting his clothes and the investors no longer backup his business, so the plans for a brand expansion are put on hold indefinitely.
I admit that Posen is not exactly my favorite designer, I think of him as an overrated talent that could not carry his brand with a lot of sense, sometimes it was good, sometimes it was bad, sometimes very regular and almost never spectacular, after 8 years of this you are obviously left with a bad impression.
This idea of him been overrated comes on how the press presented him back in 2002: a huge fashion talent with a very short carrier. He was one of the “designers to watch” pack that went straight from school to the runway (Proenza Schouler and Behnaz Sarafpour were part of this).
Proenza Schouler Primavera 2010.
But then I got to think, what Zac Posen did wrong? How come he is now so far from the beginning of his carrier? Did he loose his talent along the way?
Not precisely. It’s not as simple as talent-equals-success; you need to make careful choices for what you do with your craft.
Behnaz Sarafpour Primavera 2010.
I’m no fashion designer, I write about fashion, so I can only begin to understand what they go trough to make it in the business.
Analyzing his and other designers that had lost momentum as well, I noticed some choices that could have led them to be forgotten or (and much worse) cause the indifference of the industry.
I reduce it to these 3 advises that you can follow (or not) for avoiding becoming an ephemeral designer.
1. Relax. Do not succumb to pressure.
As a “young promise” you’ll get a lot of praising, exaggerated compliments will come in tons, adjectives like “The new Ralph Lauren” or “The salvation of Halston” would drop on your shoulders and will not let you sleep. This kind of pressure can cause designers to act nervous and unsure, so they will not be at the top of their game to show off their talent.
That was the case of Julien Macdonald, in 2001 the LVMH Group hired the designer to be the creative director of the house of Givenchy, replacing (after a very public dispute with the group) Alexander McQueen and winning over Alber Elbaz and Olivier Theyskens. When he started he was dubbed as “The Welch wizard” because of his very well executed garments, but for 2003 his clothes were described as “trying too hard”. Julien felt the weight of the house of Hubert de Givenchy (and their owners) and after only 3 years he left the company to star one of his own. He did not wanted to deal with the critics and bad reviews anymore.
Givenchy Primavera 2002.
The opposite of this story is Riccardo Tisci, who has prove to have a very thick skin, his biggest detractor is non other than Cathy Horyn the critic of the New York Times, who until recent seasons has been accepting his designs.
Is better to take the risk reinventing a house being loyal to your vision than fall under the pressure of the legacy, trying to please the owners to the extreme.
Givenchy Primavera 2010
2. Choose your home very well.
As newly graduate is almost impossible to say NO to the great offers of being in charge of a well-known brand that the big luxury groups (like LVMH, PPR or the Prada Group) make. But choose wisely because no matter your talent, as a designer you can have cero chemistry with the company.
Olivier Theyskens is one of the great talents that right now is unemployed. The designer can’t find a fashion house that fits him: his success with Rochas in 2003 disappeared when the brand was discontinued in 2006; his next opportunity with Nina Ricci was a failure (even though the critics loved the collections) when the shareholders did not renewed his contract. Theyskens is now busy with the publication of his book “The Other Side of The Picture” (published by Assouline), but is still looking for a place to work his fashion ideas. Is almost a crime to see all that talent being waste.
Rochas por Olivier Theyskens.
A good example of choosing correctly is Raf Simons. When Gianni Versace died he was offered to be his replacement but something happen and Donatella was left in charge.
Jil Sander Otoño 2009 por Raf Simons.
Simons today plays with the silhouette of a woman with exceptional craft in every collection he presents for Jil Sander, a true match made in heaven that has brought him critics and commercial success.
Talent can be abundant, but it needs someone that understands the value that it has so the designer will not be forsaken (or replace by Lindsay Lohan).
3. Do not underestimate experience.
Is quite normal to see young designers being thrown to the center stage with just one collection in their portfolio and cero experience on how to deal with the press or the administration of a business.
Zac Posen had the world on his feet for 4 seasons with investors and critics praising his collections, he got carried away by all of this and he began to create this extravagant persona in the style of John Galliano: a dramatic outfit, famous friendships and an attitude full with confidence that was easily mistaken for arrogance, the problem was that he has not Galliano’s long career in fashion and this behavior was making the stage persona more important than the clothes itself.
The Proenza Schouler boys (Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough) are the success case, their graduation collection was bought for Barneys New York and ever since they have been focus in the design of each product they develop to the max. The Proenza Schouler accessories line was launch last year with the same positive reviews and sales than the clothing line.
It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you are new in the business you need to learn all the tricks so you can use it in your favor.
A good friend of mine is studying fashion design in Paris, when we discussed the topic of this post, he asked me to talked about the not so successful designers with a lot of love, recognizing their talent.
And he is totally right, the new designers suffer that the press elevates them to the point of gods and then destroys them in the next seasons. The CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) choose every season a young design promise to promote using all of their resources.
The council can easily forget about this if the chosen talent doesn’t bring investors in a certain amount of time. Is like they only have a small moment to prove they are worth it.
Is not all the fault of the institutions when the designers also give in to the game. Is like survival of the fittest, there always will be someone to praise them, but not always to guide them.