A cynical part of me wants to begin this tale by saying, “Another one bites the dust”. This morning, news broke that Hedi Slimane had left his position as Creative Director of Saint Laurent. At this point, for most fashion journalists, it’s become abhorrently routine to report on the frequency with which successful designers leave or are dismissed from their posts at major luxury brands. At first, we balk at this information, because in the modern day we are taught to equate success at something with loyalty to it. After all, if you’re doing well at something, you don’t give up on it mid-stride. No one would ever have won an Olympic gold medal if that were the case.
For all intents and purposes, Slimane had a covetable success story.
For all intents and purposes, Slimane had a covetable success story. He returned to Saint Laurent in a blaze of glory and courageously forged a new identity for the brand – infamously dropping “Yves” from the name in an effort to demarcate the brand’s epoch of Slimane. Not everyone was a fan of his swift and immediate changes, and some of his collections were critically panned. Although the media discouraged his efforts, Slimane turned profit for Saint Laurent at record speed, and his sales records prove it. Despite the industry feedback, consumers invested in his vision, and in the present-day “business of fashion” this should have been enough of a prize on which Slimane could rest his laurels.
When Raf Simons left Dior, he spoke of exhaustion with the pace of his schedule, which demanded creative output that would drain even the most Herculean of designers. When Alber Elbaz was fired from Lanvin for “failing” to serve the whims of the company’s majority shareholder, we came to realize just how much the industry was robbing from the souls of creative people who designed from their heart. It was an ugly time, because it highlighted the true nature of what fashion had become: a terrible machine that chewed up and spit out the very people that fed it.
Why does a commercially successful designer leave his post at the helm of one of the world’s most sought-after brands?
We reported on Slimane’s possible exit from Saint Laurent months ago, as well as the possibility that Anthony Vaccarello would be hired to fill his seat. It only seemed like a matter of time before rumors solidified into facts. When Slimane’s four-year contract with Saint Laurent expired on Thursday, he chose not to renew it, and it seems like Vaccarello is poised to assume his position. Although we now have concrete answers to the speculations surrounding Saint Laurent’s future, the fact remains that the fashion industry has burned through another brilliant star. This still leaves plenty of open-ended questions, like why does a commercially successful designer leave his post at the helm of one of the world’s most sought-after brands? His last act for Saint Laurent involved an 18-month renovation of the 300-year-old Hôtel de Sénecterre in Paris, in which he installed two couture workshops. This brings up yet another question: Why would a designer go through such great lengths to reposition a brand, succeed at doing it, and then abscond from the position? If this is simply a case of business strategy taking an unexpected direction, then the future of the Saint Laurent brand will likely become one of fashion’s most interesting case studies.