LONDON, United Kingdom — The news of Frida Giannini's departure from her role as creative director of Gucci may not have been completely unexpected, but it certainly has dominated the fashion conversation in recent days. Many have wondered about Giannini's next move. But the billion-dollar question on everyone's lips is: who will take the creative helm at Gucci after her reign of eight years? There has been no shortage of speculation and rumour. But my thoughts have quietly turned to another question: what caused the creative decline of Gucci in the first place?
It’s sometimes hard to recall what the the role of a creative director looked like before they were tasked with producing not only four women’s collections a year, but three or four men's collections, as well as shoes, accessories and licensed products such as eyewear, perfume and cosmetics, which, in today's competitive industry, also require strong creative direction. Let’s not forget the public appearances and marketing campaigns and, underlying all of this, the need to define and develop overall brand image.
For overtaxed designers, support could come in the form of image directors, a new role developed over the last few years to take pressure off creative directors.
John Galliano, former creative director of Dior, endured a very public breakdown in 2011, which he later attributed, in part, to the pressures of his role, turning him into a slave to his job and leading him down a path of addiction and emotional fragility. “What had started off as self-expression turned into a mask,” Galliano explained. He would drink to unwind and then medicate to gear up again, or even just to sleep. Alexander McQueen came under the same intolerable pressures, while Christophe Decarnin, Balmain’s former creative director, also suffered a personal crisis as a result of his poor work-life balance (he was admitted to a mental hospital in 2011 due to depression and anxiety attacks in the lead up to Paris Fashion Week). Even designers who remain at the top of their game have been admitted to rehab for addictions attributed to work.
Frida Giannini is a talented designer and an undeniably savvy businesswoman, but everyone has their limits. The pressure of being brand guardian for a fashion behemoth such as Gucci requires close to superhuman capabilities. But, for overtaxed designers, support could come in the form of image directors, a new role developed over the last few years to take pressure off creative directors and allow them to focus on what was once their primary function: designing brilliant collections. This role has already been implemented into the organisational structures of brands such as Stella McCartney, Mulberry and Céline, which regard innovation in human resources as critical to long-term brand health.
Whilst the requirements of every brand are unique, the image director tends to sit at the same level as the communications director, marketing director and merchandising director, and typically takes responsibility for all image-led output other than the actual collections. This includes overall brand voice, seasonal show themes, the creative direction of events, marketing campaigns and online community relations.
These functions are increasingly key to a brand’s well being and uniting them under a new, more focused role seems to be the only practical solution if we’re to protect the creative core of a fashion business.
Lewis Alexander is the founder of Lewis Alexander Executive Search, a London-based firm specialising in human resources, executive search and organisation structure.
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