Fashion houses appoint 'number twos' as creative directors

In 2009 when Lindsay Lohan was named creative director of French fashion house Emanuel Ungaro, celebrities moonlighting as fashion designers hadn't yet reached its peak.

Brands had been looking to fill creative positions with big names, big personalities and even bigger followings, where fame often gets the upper hand over talent. Unsurprisingly, these jobs have often come at the expense of those second in command, the designers behind the creative director, the number twos, who have the technical and creative skill to fulfill these roles, but lack the celebrity status.

Things took a change in 2015 when Gucci, previously led by big personalities like Tom Ford and Frida Giannini, opted to choose unknown designer Alessandro Michele to lead its billion euro business.

Gucci led the way with hiring an anonymous designer

Gucci's CEO Marco Bizzarri didn't have Michele on his shortlist of potential candidates when it was decided Giannini should be replaced. Michele began as a junior designer under Tom Ford, and remained anonymous throughout his ten year tenure. Even under Giannini, nobody knew who Michele was.

Fashion houses appoint 'number twos' as creative directors

It was a courtesy meeting with Bizzarri that started the course of Michele being appointed creative director. He had already seen two well-known designers, but it was Michele, with his near archive knowledge of the house and passion for the brand, that led to him being given an assignment to come up with a men's collection in just five days. Two years later and it is fair to say Michele has transformed Gucci both aesthetically and profitably, and brands are looking toward Gucci to emulate its success.

Should fashion houses be led by big personalities?

One of the problems in fashion is the "old guard believes that fashion, as an art form, should be led by visionaries with big personalities and even bigger reputations," notes Refinery29. It is the newer generation, however, that embraces fashion as a business, and should be led by creatives with an understanding of what modern customers want from their clothes. "This tension between old versus new, number ones versus number twos, gets at the heart of the industry’s most fundamental question: Is fashion mostly art? Or is it mostly a business?"

Fashion, of course, is both. The artform can't exist without the business, and the business would be nothing without the aspirational and creativity. CEO's of fashion companies are realizing that number twos can be good for business as well as the creative.

Fashion houses are hiring number two's

The past two years have seen an ascension of number twos take the roles of number ones. Take for example Raf Simons' former number two, Serge Ruffieux, who is now creative director at Carven. Last month Natacha Ramsay-Levi was appointed as head of Chloé, but she was Nicholas Ghesquiere's number two at Louis Vuitton. Last October Marni hired Miuccia Prada’s number two Francesco Risso and Mulberry onboarded Johnny Coca, previously Phoebe Philo's number two at Celine.

All these designers were largely anonymous until their appointments, all the while leading their own quiet revolution behind the scenes.

Photo credit: Marco Bizzarri, Alessandro Michele @ British Fashion Awards, source: Gucci Facebook


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