February 28, 2012

Ins and Outs of Fashion

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This past week the entire fashion world has been atwitter over some big-name firings and hirings. It was announced just before the fall 2012 Jil Sander runway show in Milan last weekend that Raf Simons, designer for the storied German label, would be leaving after a successful seven-year run. On the tails of this news came the announcement that Stefano Pilati would be leaving his post as head designer of Yves Saint Laurent, an important French fashion house, after an eight-year tenure.

Speculations have swirled across the blogoshpere as to who will be taking over next. It was confirmed that Simons will be replaced by Jil Sander herself, who left her eponymous label years ago while the replacement for Pilati is not yet known. However, it has been speculated that Pilati will be replaced by Hedi Slimane; a renowned menswear designer credited with popularizing Dior Homme menswear and making slim-cut suits fashionable again.

As Heidi Klum likes to say in her endearing German accent on Project Runway, “In fashion, one day you’re in, the next day you’re out.”

These high-end games of musical chairs are not uncommon in fashion, an industry so fickle that it shuns it’s own best talent in certain moments. Simons and Pilati, two designers on their way out, have each had remarkable careers and, in their own ways, changed the image of their brands in innovative ways. But that still doesn’t buy them immunity from the winds of corporate change that dictated their departures.

But these shifts and shuffles got me thinking about the ways that the idea of a “career path” in fashion is unique and strange Firstly, sometimes it is hard to see how one designer rises to succeed over another. But it becomes self-evident when one notices that the industry is a web of enmeshing personal and professional connections.

For example, Alexander Wang seemed to emerge from the woodwork as a young designer whose talent and charisma catapulted him to immediate fame and success. Turns out, Wang’s family has a clothing production empire in China. Family connections, money and productive capabilities will do a lot for you. A Vogue Fashion Fund award also can’t hurt to get you noticed. Of course Wang is talented, but there were also many factors in his favor.

Aside from the obvious example of money and connections helping one begin a career, there is also the question of career path: the twists and turns that make up a life in the industry. While many people go into the industry with the intention of realizing their own creative vision, very few achieve that goal. There are many more people doing technical drawings of t-shirts for the Gap and similar jobs than designers who have made a name for themselves.

At the end of the day, most designers will be working under someone else’s vision. Even the big guys like Simons and Pilati were under contract and under someone else’s name. The reality is that there is a dearth of funding opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to strike out on their own, no matter their bona fides.

So what this results in is the aforementioned lack of job security at very high levels of design, which seems counterintuitive and illogical. But that is where we find ourselves today, thinking about two inspiring designers who are being forced on to the next chapter of their careers whether they like it or not.

Simons’ presentation last weekend marked a very graceful exit from Jil Sander. The brand was founded by Sander herself on the principles of modernist tailoring and fine fabrics. Simons took those signatures and developed the brand into an international beacon of directional modernist fashion, using high-tech fabrics in simple, elegant cuts.

Not often does one get to meticulously plan one’s own going-away party, as was the case with Simons’ final show last weekend. He sent out a quietly beautiful collection of hushed tones of pink and beige, inspired by mid-century women’s tailoring but rendered in decidedly modern silhouettes. Think Betty Draper redux, hourglass dresses cut with asymmetrical skirts, dainty clutch coats but in oversized proportions. Stantions loaded with fresh flowers graced the runway, as though Simons were elegantly congratulating himself on his seven excellent years. The show elicited a standing ovation from the fashion crowd, who appreciated his work while gossiping about the future of the brand and the future of the designer on his way out.

Original Author: Amelia Brown