As dear Heidi Klum is so fond of telling us: in fashion, one day you’re in, the next day, you’re out.
This has never been truer than in the past 12 months when the major fashion houses have been involved in a seemingly endless game of musical chairs.
On Friday, Saint Laurent made the latest move when they officially announced what had become known as “fashion’s worst-kept secret”: after four highly successful years, Hedi Slimane was taking his leave from the brand as creative director.
Speculation that Slimane would not be staying after the end of his contract has raged for months, and it was coupled with whispers about who would fill the distinguished designer’s shoes.
For once, the gossip mill proved correct: on Monday, 36-year-old Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello was announced as the creative heir to Saint Laurent.
“Mr. Saint Laurent is a legendary figure for his creativity, style and audacity. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the history of this extraordinary house,” Vaccarello said in a statement.
The Vaccarello-Slimane change-up is just the latest—and perhaps last—in a series of high-profile shakeups that include Alexander Wang exiting Balenciaga, Raf Simons saying sayonara to Dior, and Alber Elbaz getting the boot from Lanvin.
Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia has stepped into the head role at Balenciaga and designer Bouchra Jarrar has been named artistic director of Lanvin.
While Dior is currently being helmed by an in-house team, there is much speculation that Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen may be next in line for the top job.
Much of the shuffling has been attributed to the burn-out of designers who are often helming more than one brand at a time, and managing what often seems to be an ever-expanding number of seasons a year.
Slimane will not be an easy act to follow. While many critics have debated just how revolutionary his work for Saint Laurent has been, his collections certainly gave everyone a lot to talk about.
Over four years, he oversaw the house’s re-branding as Saint Laurent (sans “Yves”), shook up the fashion establishment when he chose to base his operations in Los Angeles, and revived youth culture of yore as his fashion inspiration.
Plus, Slimane made the brand some serious cash; at the end of 2015, Saint Laurent reported just over $1 billion in revenue, a 38-percent increase from the previous year.
A press release from Kering, the parent company of Saint Laurent, announcing Slimane’s departure described his tenure as “a holistic reform that has brought back [the House’s] utmost modernity and fashion authority,” and called it an “undisputed success.”
While a high bar has been set, Vaccarello is no stranger to shaking things up on both the runway and business side of fashion.
After studying sculpture at L’École de la Cambre in Brussels, Vaccarello turned to fashion after graduating in 2006. He quickly gained critical notice after winning first place at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography that same year. His winning collection was all edgy sex appeal, a tight black and white debut inspired by the Hungarian porn star La Cicciolina.
His work caught the attention of Karl Lagerfeld, who recruited him to his then-empire at Fendi to work on the brand’s fur line.
After a couple of years buried in pelts, Vaccarello left to launch his own line in 2009.
Vaccarello’s career has been gaining speed ever since. In 2011, the year after he debuted his namesake brand, Vaccarello won the French equivalent of the prestigious CFDA award, the ANDAM (Association Nationale de Développement des Arts de la Mode), which came with a hefty 200,000 euro prize, not to mention some serious fashion cred.
The collections that followed built on his foundation of creating fashion with serious sex appeal. He played with thigh-high hemlines, lace-up detailing, and slashes of fabric that showed more than a hint of skin.
His design aesthetic may be provocative and edgy, but he maintains an eye for tailoring and stays just this side of scandalous. Some collections were more emphatically feminine while others played with structure and traditionally male silhouettes and lines.
Vaccarello’s brand soon gained the attention of Donatella Versace, who recruited him to be the guest designer for her diffusion line, Versus Versace, in 2013. In 2015, she named him the official creative director for the brand.
While he has only been at the helm of Versus Versace for a year, it’s not all that surprising that Vaccarello has already been snapped up by a bigger brand.
The Versace matron has become well-known for her ability to spot new talent and install them in Versus Versace, before they are recruited away to prestigious new positions. This happened with both of Vaccarello’s predecessors, J.W. Anderson and Christopher Kane.
Versace is aware of her role as fashion maker, and seemingly proud of the part she plays (although it must be more than a little frustrating to have to keep finding innovative new talent for her own brand).
In a statement announcing Vaccarello’s departure from Versus Versace, she commented, “In each instance, their time on Versus Versace led to them making a huge advancement in their design career. I appreciated the chance to work with each of these three designers, and I enjoyed seeing what they brought to a brand I truly love. I’m proud that Versus can be such a remarkable global platform for emerging design talent.”
While Vaccarello was at the helm of Versus Versace, he was one of the first major designers to decide to experiment with the format of the fashion calendar, a move Saint Laurent has yet to embrace. He and Versace decided to make the Versus Versace Spring 2016 collection available for purchase online immediately after it hit the runway.
But while Vaccarello may be willing to experiment with changes to the business side of fashion that have been brought on by the onslaught of iPhones and digital innovation, that doesn’t mean he embraces all of the new developments that come withe our social-media saturated world.
“I go home after work! And I don’t think designers have to be so overexposed. I’m not into selfies. I don’t care!” Vaccarello told Alexandra Marshall for a piece in the May issue of Harper’s Bazaar.
Vaccarello, who has announced he will be shuttering his personal label to focus on his new position, added that he doesn’t “understand the burnout” faced by over-burdened designers, but that he also thinks fashion needs to slow down.
“We have to take a break and stop running after the customer. Luxury has to be slower. If we try to keep up with the faster outside world, we die,” Vaccarello said. “When brands try too hard to sell 10 million coats, you don’t want to keep buying. You don’t need clothes! It’s about desire and creating desire. We need images and we need to dream, but we don’t need another shirt.”
The challenge facing Vaccarello now is to use his design aesthetic and fashion philosophy to build on the legacies of Saint Laurent and Slimane, and leave his own mark on the storied fashion house.