Amongst the most anticipated collections this season in Paris were the debuts by new designers at the helm of established brands -- Stuart Vevers for Loewe, Estaban Cortazar for Ungaro, and Alessandra Facchinetti for Valentino. Each brand has faced its own unique challenges in finding the right creative spark to sustain brand awareness and business performance.
While many fashion companies are practically clambouring to establish a presence and gain legitimacy in the lucrative leather goods category, Loewe has a long, rich history in beautifully-crafted leather goods, including a strong link to the Spanish Royal family. But despite its enviable heritage and high quality, Loewe has had a hard time breaking into the younger fashion mainstream. Enter Stuart Vevers, who has a luxury heritage all his own, with stints at Louis Vuitton and most recently at Mulberry, where he helped put the British brand on the global fashion map.
Vevers' leather goods for Loewe hit all the right notes -- so right, that one glossy pink exotic skin bag was actually stolen during the presentation. He took classic Loewe shapes and updated them for a younger, more fashion-savvy clientele. The standout was a pony hair bag with an animal spot pattern by Fleet Bigwood, a print specialist who teaches at Central St Martins. Stuart told us that everything was designed from scratch, including the fun padlock and lightbulb heels that added a bit of irreverence to the collection.
While the industry nodded understandingly when Vevers came to Loewe, what with his CV of A-list fashion names and a strong connection to London's cool fashion clique (Giles Deacon made a stop in to support his friend), Esteban Cortazar's appointment at Ungaro raised a few eyebrows, including our own. While he had 5 years of design experience for his own label, the 23-year old Cortazar had no experience in a big house and could have crumbled under all the pressure.
He didn't. We did not attend the show, but it was generally well-received, with fashion critics giving the young Cortazar points for his youthful energy and for keeping things straightforward. The soft draping made for a more playful Ungaro than what some might have expected, but it seems the industry is willing to give this young talent a chance to grow into his role. We hope the Mounir Moufarrige, the brand's CEO, does the same. (Several major talents are said to have turned down the Ungaro role due to unfavourable reactions to Mr. Moufarrige.)
Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill were those of Valentino Garavani, who after 45 years at the helm of his eponymous label, stepped down after the couture shows in January. Facchinetti delivered a collection that was "respectful" to Valentino, according to several observers who seemed to choose the same word, one which was neither adulatory or outwardly critical. The collection itself was quite beautiful, and apart from a few stylistic choices, Facchinetti didn't veer too far away from the Valentino formula that has worked so well, albeit with a more relaxed approach.
This is always the big choice a designer makes when taking over a label. What balance should they strike between sticking to the house's DNA and putting their own stamp on the label? Riccardo Tisci has been given space to toy with this during his first few seasons at Givenchy (and hit the nail on the head this time), partially because the brand was being re-launched almost from scratch. But our headline aside, Facchinetti's debut wasn't technically a revival - the Valentino business is strong and growing. Thus, Facchinetti was under the high-intensity business of fashion microscope. Too extreme a turn, and it could seriously impact profits.
In her review, Cathy Horyn made a valid point that Facchinetti (and Permira, Valentino's new owners) may want to consider carefully. While she has several seasons yet to put her mark on the brand, if she does not try to say something of her own, she may be considered irrelevant from a design perspective, even if buyers are happy that she has not alienated the core Valentino clientele. This strategy may not sustainable over the long-term as the brand may begin to feel stale.
Incidentally, Cathy also confirmed a rumour that Valentino himself would have preferred very talented Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez to take over from him. Prior to Permira's acquisition of Valentino, its parent company, Valentino Fashion Group, made an investment in in Proenza Schouler last summer, at a surprisingly low valuation, leaving observers wondering why they would have agreed to this. It would make sense that they would take a lower valuation if they were going to also take on a lucrative design role at Valentino that also linked their futures more closely to the the Group.
We trust that Cathy has a very good source on this, so are comfortable in reporting it here now. Actually, on second thought, she probably heard it straight from the horse's mouth.
Valentino and Ungaro photos courtesy of Style.com