Fashion Bytes — The Role of the Designer

More than the clothes, the biggest news to come out of Milan last week was that Raf Simons, creative director for Jil Sander, would be leaving the label. What’s more, Jil Sander would be returning to her eponymous label for the third time. The departure of Simons has the fashion press speculating that he will be taking over as creative director at Dior, where they still have not found a replacement for John Galliano.

This caused me to wonder what is the true role of the designer? It has become so prevalent an issue that Suzy Menkes addressed the ‘musical chairs’ situation that is currently affecting designers in theNew York Times. Jil Sander’s label bears her name, but she herself has been working for Uniqlo since she fell out with Prada in 1999 after they purchased a 75% stake in the company. The financial politics that could not help but lurk in the background of Valentino: The Last Emperor showed that Valentino chose to retire rather than to do battle with the stakeholders who might fire him from his own company if he did not cater to their artistic vision rather than his own. Despite not having replaced John Galliano, Dior still makes front page news with its collections. Calvin Klein and DKNY have been without their founders for decades now, and Klein’s leaving the label meant its resurgence thanks to the new vision. How important is it not only to a particular label but to fashion itself, and to fashion history, who designs what and where?

In the academic study of fashion we look at many things: artistic vision and influence, history, politics; do we forget that fashion is a business in the process? A very lucrative business, which caters to the masses more than it does to the artists who create it. Until the modern period, all the great ‘masterpieces’, from the Sistine Chapel to The Ecstacy of St Teresa to Las Meninas, were commissioned works and art for art’s sake did not exist. So fashion’s focus on the bottom line is nothing new to the art world. But, how much does the financial aspect affect the industry?

Jil Sander is 68, which is one of the first things any of the articles or interviews will tell you. In a Daily Mail interview last week, it was mentioned that Vivienne Westwood is 70. Yet, no one has told us how old Raf Simons is, nor does Karl Lagerfeld’s age come up (78), nor Valentino’s for that matter (almost 80). But when interviewing female designers the question of whether they are ‘too old’ to be designing certainly comes in. Considering that the women’s wear collections are the biggest draw of any fashion label, isn’t this not only ageist, but sexist? Why are older men acceptable as dictators of fashion, but not older women?

Please share your thoughts.

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  • Worn Through » Fashion Bytes — Fashion Finance
    July 31, 2012 - 5:00 am

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