The Challenge of a Comeback

With luxury brands constantly switching from one designer to another, many fashion designers grow tired of the industry’s unstoppable musical chairs and are tempted to quit it once and for all. This, or to reinvent themselves just like Alber Elbaz did.

It’s the season of all comebacks! After Ann Demeulemeester’s new tableware and lighting collections unveiled at Maison & Objet in September, and Christian Lacroix’s unexpected collaboration with Dries Van Noten on his Spring/Summer 2020 fashion show in Paris, Alber Elbaz is now the latest designer to announce his big return to the industry. At last! His dismissal from Lanvin in the Fall of 2015 – after having excelled at the helm of the brand’s creative direction for 14 years – was a shocking one. Both the industry and the designer himself were upset and disappointed – Elbaz even admitted in some interviews that he was still sketching an imaginary collection after his dismissal from Lanvin, just to make sure that he wouldn’t neglect his creativity while waiting for a new job offer… What should happen, eventually happened: Richmond announced the launch of AZfashion in a collaboration with Alber Elbaz for October 25th. The Swiss luxury group owns the luxury brands Alaïa, Chloé, and Dunhill, and is now launching the AZfashion brand from scratch. “AZfashion will be an innovative and dynamic startup, meant to turn dreams into reality,” stated the brand in an official release. Alber Elbaz referred to his new brand as “a dream factory which will focus on developing solutions for women of our times.” He specified that he is now “excited to collaborate with good people,” as well as with “talented and smart individuals.”

For the time being, Elbaz’s plans for his new venture remain relatively vague, but it is highly likely that he will not operate the same way he did at Lanvin, as the luxury industry has changed considerably over the past few years. More importantly, it has to be noted that many reputed designers who have left the fashion brand to which they had been dedicated, body and soul, usually would exit the industry completely (Martin Margiela), or start a new career elsewhere (Helmut Lang in contemporary art, Christian Lacroix in stage costume design). “It was a one shot with Dries; I’m not doing a comeback at all,” insisted Lacroix, who is currently working on the costume design for about ten shows that will be performed through the end of June 2020. “Dries was working on the theme of ‘Barry Lyndon’ for his Spring/Summer 2020 collection and, seeing his moodboard covered with references from my past Haute Couture collections, he preferred to call me and ask me to work together on this collection, rather than to copy my work.” As of today, many other couturiers, designers, and artistic directors no longer really want to work in fashion after the greedy and fast-paced industry led them to either feel mishandled or burnt out. More notable, however, are the designers who have been able to explore their creativity in another field, or set up another creative business model.

Stefano Pilati did just that, by launching his new independent brand Random Identities with the support of the online multi-brand retailer Ssense for production and logistics. “Like everyone else, I want to dress the younger generations,” explained Pilati, who used to be at the helm of both Saint Laurent and Ermenegildo Zegna, and will be Pitti Uomo's next guest designer in January with his brand Random Identities. “But I don’t want to lie to them by spending millions on a show to capture their attention, and eventually offer them products that cost several months of rent.” The prices of Random Identities’ ready-to-wear collection for women and men range from €60 for a tank tops to approximately €400 for dungarees or a trench coat. It is de facto the first time that a fashion designer who used to be at the helm of reputed luxury brands offers such an accessible price range to his customers.

“I decided to retire from the fashion industry because my profession didn’t allow me to do anything else,” stated Ann Demeulemeester, who had kept a low-profile since she left her eponymous brand in 2014. “I do not miss it because I have enjoyed my time as a fashion designer for thirty years during which I have created, given, and, in return, received a lot. I often compare fashion to music. When an artist is free from any restraints, his songwriting comes to him naturally and his music is beautiful. When, however, an artist is depending on a record company, he is forced to perform well in terms of album sales and his tracks are not the same... Since I am in what I consider to be the second part of my life, I do not want to make a precise plan – I like being free, imagining things with no timetable and stress...” continued Demeulemeester, adding that she has always been passionate about sculptures.

“I have always dreamed of having an atelier filled with plaster and clay,” she added, noting that she explored the subject at lot before designing her own line of tableware. “I started with a humble piece of design,” she said. “A plate first, then a small dish to store fruits and vegetables harvested in my own garden and, little by little, I made all the prototypes of this collection with my own hands.” Ann Demeulemeester’s set of tableware released under her own name in collaboration with Serax includes porcelain plates and dishes adorned with shadow motifs, hand-blown glasses, and a range of cutlery with sculpted handles. In addition, Demeulemeester unveiled a line of luminaries that reflect her signature style. “I have only changed the medium and the materials – the spirit of my designs remains the same,” she concluded. The only difference with fashion being that these pieces are here to stay. “They will not be sold out in a few months. It’s nice to design something that will stand the test of time.” Exactly the opposite of fashion.

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