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Aisling O’Connor: This season’s fashionable new look is hiring and firing ... and we’re not just talking about John Galliano


Tearful ... Raf Simons bids an emotional adieu

Tearful ... Raf Simons bids an emotional adieu

Tearful ... Raf Simons bids an emotional adieu

IF you really want to be up on what’s in and who’s out, hiring and firing is the latest big thing - in fashion anyway. As the spring fashion weeks revealed the big trends for Fall 2012, high-shine black leather, winter white, and gold; but shocking revelations also came across the wire from the fashion press.

In the midst of the fabulous mayhem of Milan fashion week, were the announcements that Raf Simons was ending his tenure at Jil Sander, and Stefano Pilati was no longer to serve as creative director at Yves Saint Laurent.

It’s a common feeling these days to sense the guillotine blade lingering over the desk. Stefano Pilati felt it from day one. He worked as ready-to-wear designer at YSL from 2000 under Tom Ford. Pilati recalls feeling that he would be fired at any time during his 12 years with the brand; in fact he didn’t think he would survive a year.

YSL has flourished in the past 8 years under Stefano’s creative direction, after the sensational departure of Tom Ford in 2004. But it is now clear that Pilati at YSL was not a comfortable fit. Rumours abound since 2011, and reports after the official announcement in March sway between Pilati leaving, and being dismissed by PPR.

Regardless both seem happier as a result, with former Dior Homme designer and fashion photographer Hedi Slimane being appointed the big job at YSL, and Stefano rumoured to be heading over to Armani to be groomed to take the helm whenever 77-year-old Giorgio retires – who seemingly shows no sign of giving up, or ageing for that matter.

Since early 2011 the global fashion media has been in a constant state of cliff hanger-style frenzy - like a gaggle of women waiting to see what happens next on Coronation Street - about the drama at Christian Dior. Dior suspended and then fired their hugely successful creative director John Galliano last year when an anti-Semitic rant recorded on a cell phone was publicised.

Galliano blamed the behaviour on an alcohol and Valium addiction, but was subsequently found guilty by the French courts of making anti-Semitic remarks, and his hopes of returning to Dior were finally laid to rest.

Round-and-round the rumour mill went about Galliano’s replacement, while his ‘second fiddle’ Bill Gaytten acted as caretaker designer. Despite an increase in Dior revenues across Bill’s four collections in ready-to-wear and couture, he was never considered an acceptable replacement in the eyes of fashion watchers, who still used the work of former industry darling, Galliano, as a yard stick.

It was thought that the brand that brought forth the ‘New Look’ in the 1950’s required a creative visionary and Dior set out to bag themselves an oracle. Alleged negotiations with Louis Vuitton’s Marc Jacobs broke down over money and conditions, Alexander Wang’s name was thrown into the hat, and by March of this year, any designer worth their salt was sharing a headline with Dior.

So the press exhaled a sigh of relief this past Monday when Christian Dior parent company LMVH announced that they were appointing Raf Simons, newly ejected from Jil Sander, as creative director. There had been a tearful goodbye to a standing ovation at Simons’ final collection for Jil Sander just hours after the announcement of his departure in March, so this young visionary’s new position including his first foray into couture has caused much excitement and anticipation in the press.

Interestingly Simons’ critically acclaimed final show had a strong romantic, elegant air which is very much associated with the essence of Dior, and not the minimalist Jil Sander. The conditions under which Raf exited and brand founder Jil Sander re-entered, like in Pilati’s case, are unconfirmed. There is a suspicion that Dior’s courting of the Italian label’s head designer, forced them to rethink and make a pre-emptive strike, bringing Sander back from budget brand Uniqlo in Japan.

The economic crisis has certainly changed the perception of job security. Doing the job and keeping the boss happy just isn’t cutting it anymore. In fashion everyone from the pattern cutter to the head designer and CEO need to prove their worth on a daily basis to ensure they won’t be asked to clear out their desk tomorrow.

Job politics are now a way of life. With employers and employees strategizing as to their next move, the key focal points in hiring and firing are reflecting the essence of the business, and bringing new ideas to the table.

What is deemed to be a cut-throat industry at its core, with an outward projection of sensitive creatives and air kissing fashionistas, fashion is showing the cracks created by growing competition and the global recession.

It’s not enough to have a strong brand image and well-received collections from season-to-season. Big luxury brands appear to be in the mind-set that the creative people need to fit and fall in with the company’s vision in order to drive growth.

The designer chess game is far from over, with Pilati still a free agent and Spring 2012 sales still underway, it remains to be seen if the tendency towards fashion house decapitation will continue into the Autumn fashion weeks.