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Job: Creative Director. Requirements: Design – Optional. Visibility – Obligatory

We continue to peruse the recent revamps at the high echelons of high fashion with two recently appointed creative directors – Justin O’Shea of Brioni and Antony Vaccarello of YSL

Antony Vaccarello Spring 2016 Collection

Who could confidently – and exhaustively – define the duties of a brand’s creative director? Today, it is no longer squarely about artistic leadership. Alongside sketching the next collections, the new breed of leading designers promote their labels, engage customers and foster loyalty – often doing all those on social media. 

The new artistic heads at Italian fine menswear label, Brioni, and at French high-end maison, Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) (both owned by French luxury conglomerate, Kering), Justin O’Shea and Antony Vaccarello, respectively, are now expected – among other tasks – to stroke color over the tabula rasa Instagram accounts of their houses. And this seems to be the only – digital – thread of unity between the two men whose lives’ stripes could not contrast more. 

BRIONI: Suited for the Digital  
The official Instagram page of Brioni follows a single person: Justin O’Shea.  

Justin O'Shea and Veronika Heilbrunner

Native of Australia’s “garden city,” Toowoomba in south-eastern Queensland, Mr O’Shea’s professional trajectory is motley. He did not stay down under for long. From Perth, the capital of the state of Western Australia, his work sent him off to Amsterdam and London before he arrived in Kuwait to become the buyer for high-end womenswear retailer, Al Ostoura. In 2009, Mr O’Shea carried his business smarts to Munich-based e-commerce site, MyTheresa, today owned by Nieman Marcus, where he served as global fashion buyer and later global fashion director with an expert eye for the next fad craze. 

His is an incongruous profile for Brioni. With not a single day of design experience, and with a career in filling up women’s wardrobes, Mr O’Shea is, on one hand, an unconventional appointment for the masculine brand. And, on the other, he is not. He might be just the right remedy for the recent ails of Brioni – waning relevance and slumping sales.

Founded in 1945 in Rome, Brioni’s once famed suits – premium-quality fabrics sculptured in classic cuts by Italian craftsmen – today strain to excite the rising young demographic. And Mr O’Shea knows how to cultivate hype. On the first row at runway presentations or on the street with an equally voguish girlfriend Veronika Heilbrunner, fashion editor, Mr O’Shea strikes a highly recognizable figure. Thickly bearded and heavily – and randomly, as he acknowledges – tattooed, he rarely parts with his trim, three-piece suits from his favorite labels, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Acne as well as his bespoke New York tailor, Doyle+Mueser.  

Brioni Spring 2016 Collection

Modern Traditionalism
Nevertheless, it is that traditionalism in attire that styles Mr O’Shea as the unlikely apotheosis of Brioni’s time-revered aesthetics. He now sits in the chair, previously occupied by Brendan Mullane, who joined the label in 2012, the year when it flocked under Kering’s wing. Prior to his mutually agreed departure, Mr Mullane followed Brioni’s formalism as much as he attempted to diverge from it with accents like hiking boots, bomber jackets and nylon parkas as well as the occasional pop of bold color. Although still too early to judge, O’Shea would seem to maintain that ethos. At least, so he asserts.  

"I am fascinated by the unique and rich heritage of Brioni,” O’Shea told Business of Fashion. “This house has all the pieces of the puzzle — the craftsmanship, the quality and an incredible archive. I am eager to reinterpret all these elements and make them relevant for today’s customer.”

Out of the four pictures that Brioni’s Instagram carries, three feature similar bespoke black mohair tuxedoes by Mr O’Shea, who is on the fourth snap. The pieces flatter Australian film director, George Miller, Canadian actor, Donald Sutherland and French-Italian actress and singer, Chiara Mastroianni at the 69th Cannes Film Festival. All three are unmistakably Brioni – conservative designs and fine Italian tailoring, which have for years graced megastars such as Richard Burton and Matthew McConaughey, but are now falling behind the casual-loving culture of the 21st century.

Mr O’Shea, who excels at marketing himself, is undeniably trusted with upping the stakes of Brioni, as well. Whether his 90,000-strong following on Instagram will be of any real help is yet to be seen.

YSL: The New Old
The Instagram profile of Parisian maison YSL is now a white expanse, cut by a single moody, black-and-white picture. The uppercased caption screams: “ANTONY VACCARELLO APPOINTED AS CREATIVE DIRECTOR.”

Antony Vaccarello and Donatella Versace

Slipping into the new role in early April, around the same time Mr O’Shea entered Brioni, the Belgian-Italian Mr Vaccarello could not differ more from his Australian counterpart. While Mr O’Shea – with his arresting personal style – commands an enviable online fan base, Mr Vaccarello – with his bold designs – tugs the appreciation (and friendship) of industry insiders, including model Anja Rubik and icon Donatella Versace.

Those who have met Mr Vaccarello would probably describe him as shy and brooding – the complete opposite of his risqué, body-hugging creations. It is safe to claim that the bashful man is one of the brashest designers of his fledgling generation. Alumnus of Brussels’ famed design school, La Cambre (after a one-year stint at law school), he has reaped professional acclaim from day one. In 2006, he snatched the Grand Prix at the Hyeres fashion and photography festival in the French Riviera with his graduate collection. Five years later, Mr Vaccarello won France’s coveted fashion award, the Andam. 

In between those accolades, Mr Vaccarello’s work appealed to Karl Lagerfeld, who brought him in at Fendi’s fur atelier. Upon moving to Paris, he launched his eponymous label, which quickly became synonymous with trim, sexy ensembles fitting only the slimmest of female bodies. The daring elegance and unapologetic femininity of Mr Vaccarello’s ensembles did not escape Donatella Versace, who, in 2003, enlisted him as a guest designer for Versus, Versace’s punky sub-line, before promoting him to its creative director. 

At the helm of Versus for a little over a year, Mr Vaccarello married his signature flesh-exposing tailoring – often rendered in black, with the occasional burst of flaring red or calming blue – to the brand’s Medusa motif and lion-head logo. The admired outcome included not only minimalistic cocktail dresses, of which Mr Vaccarello is now a master, but also youthful leather jackets, aviator bombers, camo-print shirts, skinny jeans and playful accessories. It is that versatility yet uniformity that he is to bring over to Saint Laurent. 

Saint Laurent Fall 2016 Collection

"His modern, pure aesthetic is the perfect fit for the maison,” said Saint Laurent’s President and CEO Francesca Bellettini. “Anthony Vaccarello impeccably balances elements of provocative femininity and sharp masculinity in his silhouettes. He is the natural choice to express the essence of Yves Saint Laurent. I am enthusiastic about embarking on a new era with Anthony Vaccarello, and together bringing the maison further success.”

Rewind and Retouch
That new chapter in the label’s contemporary history – to commence with Mr Vaccarello’s spring/summer 2017 collection – will rest on Hedi Slimane’s divisive legacy. Unlike the soft-spoken Mr Vaccarello, Mr Slimane has breathed controversy, estranging some wizen Yves Saint Laurent’s loyalists, but also propelling the brand over the $1 billion mark in sales revenue – at a growth rate higher than that of the luxury industry, itself. 

In a creative tour de force, Mr Slimane moved the design studio from Paris to Los Angeles, overhauled the flagship stores, resurrected the couture line, shot the ad campaigns and – most scandalous of it all – scratched Yves off the label’s name. Yet, Mr Slimane’s army parkas, tight biker jeans, floating dresses, spunk lingerie, leather jackets and Chelsea boots have for seasons staked their indie – rock – grunge nonchalance to front rows of megastars. Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Lenny and Zoe Kravitz, Ellen DeGeneres and Sylvester Stallone, for instance, made up only a portion of the A-listers who raved at Mr Slimane’s Fall 2016 runway presentation at The Hollywood Palladium.    

Saint Laurent Spring 2016 collection

“I have a lot of respect for him [Mr Slimane], doing what he believes in," Mr Vaccarello said of Mr Slimane to Harper’s Bazaar. “He doesn't give a shit. I think [his work at YSL] is great.” Following Mr Slimane’s ground-breaking example, though, might be hard.

Although early to speculate, Mr Vaccarello is unlikely to tinker the profit-breaking formula Mr Slimane has drawn to perfection in his four years at the lead. And, somehow, social media has remained out of the equation. With an Instagram page, inexplicably wiped clean of the few pictures from Mr Slimane’s reign at YSL, Mr Vaccarello, whose creative sensitivities resonates with his predecessor’s, is reckoned to deliver on all fronts – YSL’s lines and image. Having paused his namesake brand to fully devote himself to Yves Saint Laurent, he is up for the challenge.  

With a legion of new creative directors dashing to the media-frenzied fore of luxury fashion, the speculations, predictions and news do not stop here. Check out LuxuryFacts' take on how Alessandro Michele and Demna Gvasalia have reworked, refreshed and redirected Gucci and Balenciaga.