If a trend has emerged over the past year of frenetic designer entrances and exits from fashion houses, it's that quiet, steady rung-climbers are beginning to gain on the industry's bigger names. Last week, after much speculation in the press that Hedi Slimane or Tom Ford might head to Gucci, the house announced that 42-year-old Alessandro Michele — who joined its design team 12 years ago, eventually working his way up to head of accessories — had ascended to the creative-director spot. Rather than recycle an existing star from a pool of big names, Gucci went with a dark horse. It's telling that in his statement on Michele's hire, Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri referenced the fact that the company honed his talents, and that "his knowledge of the company and the design teams in place will ... allow him to move quickly and seamlessly" into the top role.
Call it the farm-team approach. In recent months, Hermès appointed Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski — who had been an influential presence at the Row — as artistic director. Céline accessories head Johnny Coca migrated to Mulberry, Sonia Rykiel opted for Julie de Libran, a Louis Vuitton vet who served as Marc Jacobs's second-in-command during his tenure there, and Miuccia Prada's former deputy Rodolfo Paglialunga nabbed the brass ring at Jil Sander. Press announcements about these hires often doubled as explainers to the general public; after all, these names are little-known even among those who cover the industry. Certainly, it's gratifying to see decades' worth of hard work be rewarded. And it's easy to see why luxury houses would want to place their bets on someone who's already proven their success within the company. In fashion, that's the closest thing to a sure bet that exists.
But doesn't it make you long for the days of splashy designer appointments, houses fighting over big names, Champagne thrown in faces and intra-designer feuds conducted in the pages of Women's Wear Daily? Tom Ford's departure from Gucci germinated a jokey "Shouts & Murmurs" piece about how to cope — "There are seven stages a person goes through when Tom Ford leaves Gucci," it read — but now, the revolving door spins with little fanfare. The new, quieter approach reflects a certain caution on the part of brands, who understandably prefer to groom future stars rather than take on the baggage of existing ones. But what does this mean for those of us who love to take in the pageantry?Fashion used to be so much more fun. »