Opinion: From Vision To Catwalk: The Importance of the Creative Director

Creative directors are said to be considered the essence of fashion houses — although they don’t necessarily design the clothing we see on the runway, they’re responsible for coming up with the aesthetics, concept, and vision of the brand. While this job isn’t as labour intensive as a sewer or pattern cutter, the lack of a strong creative lead can leave fashion brands in shambles.

Chanel is a brand that seems to have existed since the beginning of time. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel founded the fashion house in 1910 and most of us know the late Karl Lagerfeld to have been the creative director. He was tasked with the job to continue to carry out Chanel’s legacy for the modern-day consumer. In Feb. 2019, Lagerfeld passed away;  his right-hand woman Virginie Viard was named his successor. 

Viard has been working at Chanel and with Lagerfeld since 1987 and many believe she was the right person to take over — she has been known for understanding the “DNA” of the brand better than most. Viard’s first show as creative director was met with a neutral response by the public — fans of Chanel not having yet been more accepting of her creative take to the brand.

Viard’s approach to Chanel was different than Lagerfeld’s; [Viard’s] was minimal, putting emphasis on design and tailoring while Lagerfeld’s vision was more embellished and heavily accessorized. The creative transition for Chanel is still a work in progress however is moving upwards, in the right direction. 

Alexander McQueen overcame a complete transformation when the designer and creative director died. McQueen passed away in 2010 and the brand has never been the same since. Sarah Burton replaced the McQueen as creative director after his passing and turned it upside down.

People loved McQueen’s work because it stood out from the crowd. McQueen explored themes that were dark and inventive in the best way possible. His Fall Winter 1995 collection was titled “The Highland Rape” and was percieved to be overly sexual; the models would walk down the runway flashing the audience as their pictures were taken. McQueen made headlines during his time as designer for “pushing the envelope” while taking controversial risks, still leaving his audience begging for more.

Burton’s approach to the brand is artistic, light and poetic. Burton works to push Alexander McQueen away from its dark days on the runway, shedding light on both positive and negative implications of his designs. 

While Burton’s designs are beautiful, they come across as tamed in comparison to what they were before “The Highland Rape” collection dropped. The brand has taken more of a subdued approche and found commercial success, one of their most popular items being their oversized chunky sneakers

Although some might miss designer McQueen’s flare for dramatic and eccentric designs and patterns, maybe they’re better off left in the 90s. As of now, Burton’s vision for the brand works well for the brand in today’s political climate in regards to what is deemed to be socially acceptable.

Sometimes, the creative director doesn’t have to pass away in order to have a change in regime — just take a look at Céline. Phoebe Philo was the creative director of Celine from 2008 to 2017. After she stepped down from the role it was evident that Celine was not the same.

Philo’s successor Hedi Slimane made major changes after her departure. From cutting the accent aigu from the ‘e’, to discontinuing some of Philo’s best selling bag silhouettes, Celine was starting to look like a whole new brand. Consumers that were fans of Philo’s minimal aesthetic at Celine followed her right through the exit when she left as well. This speaks volumes to the importance of a creative director. Consumers bought into Celine because of a certain style and aesthetic, once that inspiration was gone fans noticed.

Nowadays, Slimane continues to attempt to make Celine her own. Many have criticized her interpretation of the brand focuses more on her personal aesthetic rather than the brand’s identity which is “being not only for women but also about women.”

It is important to take into account that the creative director’s job is to properly execute a brand’s message; their point of view is meant to draw in both admirers and consumers of all sorts. Change can be good, but it’s always going to be difficult for new directors to fill the big shoes of their predecessors while executing their interpretation of a brand’s message — all without losing the existing fan base. 

Photo by Michael Lee/Unsplash.