Jun 8, 2010
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Fashion looks to safe side in latest designer transfers

Jun 8, 2010

PARIS, June 8, 2010 (AFP) - Flamboyant couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier is leaving Hermes to be replaced by Lacoste's in-house stylist, Britain's Giles Deacon is to join Ungaro -- in times of crisis, fashion looks to safe designers and wearable garb.

Hermes - Photo: AFP

"These men are stylists who believe fashion must do more than shine, it must have meaning, and this is a direct consequence of the (global financial) crisis," Jean-Jacques Picart, a consultant who works with the world's top luxury goods firm, LVMH, told AFP.

"They don't even like being called creators, they describe themselves as designers," he said of Deacon and Lacoste's Christophe Lemaire.

"Egos, over-the-top styles, unwearable stuff -- it's all become unfashionable."

Seeing designers play musical chairs from one house to another is common enough in the world of high-end wear. But with contracts often inked in for short two- to three-year periods, the risk factor in fashion transfers is far higher than in the sports world.

Gaultier's departure as artistic director of the luxury ready-to-wear brand Hermes was announced last week. "That's it, the end of a beautiful story which lasted seven years," he told AFP. His last Hermes collection, spring-summer 2011, will be presented in October this year.

The month of May is ideal for such announcements, said luxury consultant Donald Potard. "With the next season's collection already on the drawing board, the upset is minimised."

But while footballers are instantly operational, a new designer needs to soak up the history, style and substance of a house before producing an entire collection that meets the standards and look of the label.

"Or that signals a complete break with the past," said Olivier Saillard, the new head of Paris' Galliera fashion museum.

Saillard said the designer merry-go-round started in the 1960s but hotted up in recent years, with some couturiers spending too little time at one house.

Gaultier's seven-year stay at Hermes, where he headed womenswear, was a reasonable length, enabling the designer to imprint a style.

Other houses such as Ungaro, more recently, had changed designers each season at a "hysterical, almost comical" pace, he said. "It's a sign the house is in bad shape.

"There's no set recipe but a good transfer is often one that's been thought through and that's announced without fanfare," he added.

He noted in example the discreet arrival at Balenciaga in 1997 of Nicolas Ghesquiere, who since "has become one of the most influential creators on the scene," or of Alber Elbaz, the celebrated American-Israeli designer, at Lanvin in 2001.

"A designer matures within the comfort of a house but it takes more than just one season," even when the bankers are insisting on a quick fix, Saillard said.

Too many designer musical chairs turn stylists into stars, "diminishing the humility factor" in a job where experience counts, he added, noting the long and discreet 20-year term spent designing Hermes' lucrative men's lines by Veronique Nichanian.

Picart said a new house designer should never be judged before their third collection. "The designer's first collection indicates his desires, the second enables him to make corrections and the third is a confirmation."

Both Gaultier's replacement at Hermes, Christophe Lemaire, 45, and Briton Giles Deacon, 40, who was appointed to Ungaro in May, "are less excessive, less concerned by appearances, less futile than some of their predecessors," he added.

"They're a new generation of fashion designers," Picart said. "They have a new attitude that's a result of the crisis."by Gersende Rambourg

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