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The Vacancy: When Appointing a New Creative Director Turns a Lengthy Affair

In a time when labels write headlines with their new creative director hires, two brands make news with the power vacuum yawning in their artistic heights. LuxuryFacts poses the who, how, why and when in Dior’s and Tod’s ongoing search for their next creative leads

One creative director’s exit is another’s entry. Shoes to fill, heritage to honor and sales to boost are all traded on the threshold. The past several seasons have pushed high fashion into that peculiar state, when the departures and arrivals of creative directors prompt equal buzz of rumors and guesses. And the tardier the newcomer, the rowdier the speculations. While the door remains open, teams of designers regurgitate the labels’ proven sensibilities from collection to collection, while mavens muse over the need to tweak aesthetic blueprints and tag the potential lead designers best capable to deliver.

Dior Autumn Winter 2015

There is no other house pulled deeper into that dynamic than Parisian brand Dior, which, almost 10 months after Raf Simons’ retreat, is still seeking the person to claim his seat. So long has the search been – reports now claim it nears its finish – that its initial ripple has largely calmed. And while Dior’s predicament has somehow turned into a given, Tod’s recent break-up with Alessandra Facchinetti piques the attention back to the implications of that migratory momentum.

Continuing its exploration into the topic, LuxuryFacts looks into Dior’s and Tod’s current predicament between the designers’ legacies and the maisons’ yet misty futures.

Tod's Spring Summer 2014

The Recent Past 
Both Mr Simons and Ms Facchinetti reigned through momentous years at their respective labels. In early 2012, Mr Simons left German brand Jil Sander, where he spent seven years, to arrive at Dior in its then nascent post-John Galliano era. The following year, after directorial stints at Gucci and Valentino, Ms Facchinetti joined Tod’s, a label best known for its Gommino driving loafers. Both paused their private ventures – Mr Simons’ eponymous label and Ms Facchinetti’s Uniqueness line – to tackle arduous tasks at their respective houses. As a result, Dior exacted a modern twist to its classic silhouettes, while Tod’s finally added a women’s line (debuting at spring/summer 2014) to its mostly leather repository.

At Dior, Mr Simons oversaw couture, ready-to-wear and pre-season, producing six collections a year (with two teams of designers) – a maddening spree that in three years left Mr Simons dissatisfied and drained.

“Everything is done in three weeks, maximum five,” the Belgian designer said in an interview with fashion critic Cathy Horyn, excerpted in Business of Fashion. “You have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important.”

Dior Spring Summer 2016

And yet, a virtuoso of precision tailoring, he stamped each collection with elevated elegance and fine femininity that intrigued quicker and stronger than sassy sexiness. His creations for the maison are undeniably seductive – not because they readily bear the skin, but because they smartly veil it.

At Tod’s, reviving the brand’s womenswear department, Ms Facchinetti followed a somewhat similar aesthetic – albeit a couple of sizes looser and a pinch sportier. While Mr Simons perused Dior’s archives to create memorable balloon skirts, talked-about off-the-shoulder coats and coquettish mini dresses, Ms Facchinetti turned to Tod’s coveted accessories as archetypes for her signature leather suits, free-flowing tunics and draping capes.

Tod's Autumn Winter 2014

“The time we spend to create is really short,” Ms Facchinetti said in a 2014 interview. “I have two days for sketches, two days for fabric. You can’t control it. If you don’t have an idea in the moment, you have to wait. It’s difficult to manage the creative process like a schedule.”

Chasing the parallels that unintentionally run between them, Mr Simons and Ms Facchinetti departed from their houses after three years of praise and success. Both cited a desire to delve into projects they had put on hold due to the demands of their posts. Mr Simons has since focused on his namesake label, whose last spring 2017 presentation faintly – and tamely – reminds of the oversized, disjoined styles of Demna Gvasalia’s Vetements. Meanwhile, Ms Facchinetti, who parted with Tod’s only this May, is still to strut her next professional steps.

The Immediate Future
As the creative directors have moved on, so have the brands they once headed. At Dior, interim designers Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier have reaped approval with their Fall 2016 and Cruise 2017 shows. While the former, with its navy looks, floral motifs and rich embroideries, openly referenced Mr Simons’ sensibilities, the latter, swinging between chic and fatal, pushed beyond it in a manner some deem admissible only for a new creative director.

But such has proven hard to find, despite the legion of names cued as Mr Simons’ possible successors. Alongside internal applicants, Hedi Slimane, formerly of Saint Laurent, Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, Alber Elbaz, who recently split ways with Lanvin, as well as Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, among others, have all been tipped to slip into Mr Simons’ shoes. Their design heft is undeniable. But so are the exigencies of the Dior job and the circumstances.

Dior Autumn Winter 2016

For a position that handles three distinct lines (ready-to-wear, couture and pre-collection), Dior’s creative director title allows little control over any other artistic facet, such as shows’ set preparation or ad campaigns. That constraint would likely put off Mr Slimane and Mr Elbaz, who used to wield an expansive authority at their previous labels. Breaking off couture from the roster (and employing a separate creative director for it) and paring down the six-per-year catwalk spectacles to four have been alleged as likely concessions to sweeten the Dior deal.

Further complications, nevertheless, are the contracts designers often sign that prevent them from working for a rival for up to a year after their departure from a maison. Hence, the draft of a visionary, ready to hatch runway-worthy garbs by the minute in an otherwise limited role is neither easy nor fast.

Tod's Spring Summer 2015

While Dior may seek ways to cut the staggering volume of its apparel stock, Tod’s is looking to expand its by substituting its biannual presentations with a constant release of new items. Hopes are that such a shift would encourage the label’s next creative director to grow the womenswear department, which currently tallies a single-digit percentage of Tod’s overall revenue. A merger of the men’s and women’s lines is another prospect, which may grant Andrea Incontri – the very recently appointed creative director for menswear at Tod’s – creative oversight over the brand’s whole garment division.

Abundant are the possibilities to reshuffle the two brands’ structures and many are the names suggested to blaze those changes. Their next creative directors might ascend from Dior’s and Tod’s ranks, like Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, or drift over from another famed house, similarly to Anthony Vaccarello, who left Versus Versace for Saint Laurent, or cut through from the outside, a la Justin O’Shea at Brioni. Or they might stitch a surprise in any other fashion – time will show.