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Who could replace Dries Van Noten?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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People |Opinion

Dries Van Noten taking a bow after his SS24 show Credits: Launchmetrics Spotlight

It has been just five years since Dries Van Noten sold a majority stake of his company to Puig, the Spanish luxury conglomerate. Whether succession planning factored into the transaction remains uncertain. At 65 years old, Mr. Van Noten's recent announcement to retire from the fashion sphere and focus on other aspects of life — pursuits often sidelined by the relentless pace of the fashion industry — would typically garner praise in any other sector. Yet, within the fashion realm, his decision is met with surprise, if not lament. In an industry where longevity is often equated with prestige, a founder designer's departure, akin to that of a monarch stepping down, feels like a seismic shift.

Ageism permeates the fashion landscape, yet seasoned designers such as Giorgio Armani, who marks his 90th birthday this year, Karl Lagerfeld, who passed away at 85, Ralph Lauren (82), Tommy Hilfiger (72), and Miuccia Prada (74) tend to defy conventional retirement timelines, remaining entrenched in their roles well beyond the average retirement age.

While Prada has been proactive in succession planning — bringing on Raf Simons as co-creative director and entrusting Mrs. Prada's son with overseeing marketing — Van Noten's eponymous label is so intimately intertwined with his persona that identifying a successor capable of steering the brand into its next chapter presents a formidable challenge.

Founders stepping aside after selling a stake

Van Noten's departure following a sale is not an uncommon trajectory. Many creative founders opt to step aside after their brands are acquired, as growth and expansion become paramount. Despite the boost in revenue and operational efficiency resulting from Van Noten's sale to Puig, clashes between commercial strategy and founder idealism are not unheard of, although there has been no inclination this is the case with Puig.

Alessandro Michele, with his flair for whimsy and a distinguished tenure at Gucci, emerges as a potential candidate to succeed Dries Van Noten, given his track record and creative sensibilities. But finding a successor when a founder is still alive and well, like Peter Hawkins at Tom Ford, comes with a unique set of possibilities, restraints and expectations.

Mr Van Noten is yet to give an exit interview, but perhaps, like Tom Ford, he feels he has said everything he could say with fashion.

Alessandro Michele
Dries van Noten